Rating: 3 out of 5.

The satisfying hybrid of fantasy and adventure has been thrilling family audiences for decades, and The Water Man is the newest member of this exclusive circle. Younger audiences especially are sure to get the most out of the film’s whimsical style. I didn’t even realize this was David Oyelowo’s directorial debut, but he does an excellent job translating The Water Man’s layered script. Lonnie Chavis is in nearly every single scene and carries the movie on his shoulders like a pro. His friendship with Jo is cute, but his relationship with his mother is The Water Man‘s beating heart. Rosario Dawson gives a moving, emotional performance. There’s a gorgeous animation backstory sequence exploring the origins of the Water Man himself, which I found to be stunning and magical. 

The Water Man tells the story of a young boy named Gunner (Lonnie Chavis), who desperately hunts for a mythical figure with a local girl named Jo (Amiah Miller). Gunner’s mother (Rosario Dawson) has been diagnosed with leukemia, and he seeks The Water Man to rescue her from the grip of death. Legend has it, the figure may hold the secret to immortality. After Gunner runs away from home, his distant father (David Oyelowo) races to save the boy from the dangers waiting in the Wild Horse forest.

If I had some complaints, I wish the movie had been longer. We needed a payoff for the stone itself, and I wasn’t a fan of the movie abruptly concluding in the middle of a conversation. This gave me major Bridge to Terabithia vibes, but I don’t think it ever reaches the devastating heights of that film. As a meditation on the inevitability of death, The Water Man provides potent power that begs the viewer to make the most of their time on Earth. I have no doubt it will find the perfect audience when it debuts on Netflix in May. The Water Man opened the 29th edition of the Pan African Film Festival with a major bang.

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