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A legend in the woods

In The Water Man, two children’s quest to find a mysterious figure will intrigue viewers but may scare younger kids


Karen Ballard/RLJE Films

A legend in the woods

“In the town of Pine Mills, for generations, people claimed to see a tall, shadowy figure emerging from a lake, with fire on his chest and hope in his eyes.”

Fear not, viewers: This tantalizing opening to The Water Man, available on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms, does not mean you’ve chosen a horror film or Sasquatch documentary. David Oyelowo’s directorial debut is a delight, with just enough danger and intrigue to keep you riveted.

Young Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis) draws and writes graphic novels, a talent his mom Mary (Rosario Dawson) encourages, while his father Amos (played by director Oyelowo) is not so sure. Shortly after the family’s move to a small Oregon town, Mary’s cancer takes a turn for the worse: Mom tries to hide the severity from her son, but he finds out things are looking bleak.

Exploring his new town, Gunner learns the legend of the Water Man, the lone survivor of a tragic accident. Locals believe the Water Man haunts the nearby woods, looking for the body of his drowned wife, whom he wants to bring back to life with the same stone that protected him.

Young Jo Riley claims to know exactly where to find the mysterious figure, and for a few dollars she’ll tell the neighborhood kids tales to keep them awake at night. But Gunner doesn’t want stories: He believes the Water Man can keep his mom alive, and he’s determined to find him. So begins the quest of Jo and Gunner through the woods and toward danger.

As the duo wander toward an uncertain destination, viewers may notice echoes of the Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories. Jo turns out not to know as much as she has let on. Meanwhile back at home, Gunner’s parents grow worried about his absence, and Dad takes matters into his own hands as he strikes off into the forest himself.

Some of the adventures in The Water Man may be too frightening for younger children (the PG-rated movie has a few curse words and scary images). Without giving away spoilers, suffice it to say the quest produces mixed results, including some lessons learned. When Gunner’s family is reunited and life returns to normal, the boy inquires, “Hey, Dad, if you had to choose between a short life with a lot of love in it, or a very long life with no one left to love, which one would you choose?”

Without hesitation, Amos replies, “I would take the shorter life with your mom in it, than a long one without her.”

That seems to be the ultimate message of the film: Love and relationships are precious, and we should enjoy every day given to us with the people in our lives.


Marty VanDriel Marty is a TV and film critic for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and CEO of a custom truck and trailer building company. He and his wife, Faith, reside in Lynden, Wash., near children and grandchildren.

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