Starring Laura Tremblay, Tracy Rowland, Alys Crocker, Pardeep Bassi and Mark Nuttal
Written and Directed by Pasquale Marco Veltri
Laura Tremblay plays Anna, a prostitute attempting to escape the torments of her past while contending with her current abusers and the problems that come with societal reintegration. To cope with the trauma she’s endured, Anna regresses into her own mind where she envisions herself an avenging angel upon all those who have victimized her. If such a summary sounds familiar, well, by all means read on.
If I were to categorize Drowning, it wouldn’t be with a horror label, nor would I be particularly enticed to call it a thriller. Character-study comes to mind, as does arthouse and slow-burn drama (emphasis on the slow part)—but horror? Yes, trauma is of a horrific nature, but deeming said film within the genre is stretching the definition quite thin. Essentially, Pasquale Marco Veltri’s Drowning is Sucker Punch meets You Were Never Really Here with a dash of Jon Hewitt’s X —but entirely removed of compelling content. It’s missing the computer-generated ingenuity and heavily choreographed action of Zach Snyder’s vision, it’s missing the characterization and atmosphere of Lynne Ramsay’s brutal foray, and it’s devoid of the Aussie flick’s grim tone and urgent sense of pacing.
Drowning strips the aforementioned narratives of their intriguing meat and muscle, leaving only a skeletal frame consisting of bare cinematic essentials. To be fair, Sucker Punch , You Were Never Really Here and X weren’t masterpieces, but they were engaging productions that understood how to entertain while attempting to convey important themes. Drowning on the other hand, is a visually drab and monotonously plotted character-study that leaves much to be desired in terms of content and actionable beats.
Feeling as though it’s a short film sprawled into feature runtime, Drowning meanders for 79 minutes (but feels far longer) seemingly without goal. Yes, it’s ultimately about empowerment (as the film’s thorough synopsis exposits), but the path to get to such enlightenment is paved with indifferent direction and uneventful storytelling. There are some villains, some points of contention, but all of it is handled so casually that it robs much of the proceedings of any intensity or dread. There’s no sense of urgency. Each disquieting problem feels weightless; inconveniences that Anna will have to shrug her way through should she so choose to cease dwelling within her macabre fantasies. Between Anna’s sporadic flashes of gun-toting delirium, the majority of Drowning relies on her to day-to-day attempts at integrating back into society as a “normal” person. This consists of her trying to find work, develop her familial relationships and attend seminars for victims of crime. Occasionally, a demon from her past rears its head to remind her of bygone tribulations. This would be fine if there was a truly memorable destination for the film to arrive at, but there isn’t. The culmination of Anna’s suffering lacks catharsis let alone anything profound to say. If Drowning could be viewed as an electrical time sequence, it would simply be a flatline due to inactivity.
In order to sprinkle some “genre” here and there, Veltri implements a fractured storyline so as to parallel Anna’s broken psyche. Occasionally, these involve a sudden pop of violent imagery (like a gunshot or stapled forehead) and/or the sudden appearance of a character that may or may not be real. But mystery and subsequent guessing games are only fun if the story itself is entertaining and Drowning is just an all-around dull affair. It’s no fault of actress Laura Tremblay (as she obviously gives it her all), but her character has the emotional depth and vocal delivery of MTV’s Daria. Watching her cyclical routine of human interaction spliced with the occasional appearance of a foe (during surprisingly relaxed interactions) becomes repetitive and wearisome. Drowning splurges a great deal of time on justifying its heroine’s cynical outlook on life, but it falters in projecting anything more.
Drowning’s subject matter is of a darker shade, but that doesn’t exactly qualify it as either horror or thriller. As all of its cards are dealt early on, there’s little in the way of progress and it becomes more a trial of patience for viewers waiting for something—anything—worthwhile to occur. Trauma and personal emancipation are important topics to model a narrative after, but with so many other productions that have addressed them already (and done so in far better ways), there’s little reason to jump into Drowning’s deep end.