Water Man, The

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Short takes

Not suitable under 10; parental guidance to 13 (frightening sequences, themes of cancer and loss)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Water Man, The
  • a review of Water Man, The completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 12 August 2021.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 10 Not suitable due to distressing themes (grief and loss; cancer; child abuse) and frightening sequences.
Children aged 10–13 Parental guidance recommended due to distressing themes and frightening sequences.
Children over the age of 13 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Water Man, The
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: N/A
Length: 93 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

11-year-old Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis) has a brilliant imagination but few friends and is spending his summer vacation exploring his new town on an electric scooter and writing a graphic novel about a detective investigating his own death. At home, Gunner’s mother, Mary (Rosario Dawson), is battling leukaemia and his father, Amos (David Oyelowo), is struggling to put his marine training aside to be the caring dad Gunner needs. As his mother’s health declines, Gunner learns about the ‘Water Man’, a local legend of a ghostly, undead figure who is believed to hold the key to immortality. After gathering information from the town’s eccentric undertaker (Alfred Molina) and enlisting the help of Jo (Amiah Miller), a street kid and probable grifter who claims to have met the Water Man, Gunner makes his way into the forest to find a way to save his mother. Jo and Gunner’s journey through the spooky forest is filled with other-worldly occurrences and a budding friendship, strained by the revelation that Jo’s connection to the Water Man may not be real. Meanwhile, Amos discovers the disappearance of his son and jumps into action to find him before a wildfire reaches the children from the other side of the forest.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Cancer; Grief and loss; Death; Natural disasters (floods and fires); Children as victims (emotional and physical abuse).

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie, including:

  • Jo wrestles Gunner to the ground in retaliation for him smacking her candy bar out of his face.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • A human skeleton hangs in the undertaker’s house - it is for anatomical study purposes but may frighten younger children.
  • Jo and Gunner are frightened by animal noises in the forest - this is paired with ominous music and may distress younger children.
  • Many beetles fall onto Jo and Gunner - the children are terrified and scream as they try to run away.
  • Jo and Gunner are chased and nearly trampled by wild horses.
  • The Water Man is frightening and grotesque in appearance - he has a decaying face, hoarse and breathless voice, and is towering in height - he will likely distress young children.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Mary is suffering from leukaemia and becomes visibly unwell during the film - she appears weak and pale, and is shown with a drip.
  • Gunner sees his mother’s bald head as she prepares to shower - he becomes very frightened and distressed.
  • Mary is heard retching on several occasions due to nausea caused by her cancer medication - this distresses Gunner and will likely distress viewers.
  • An animated sequence depicts a devastating flood that wiped out the town a long time ago and killed many of its residents - people are shown drowning in the water and dead bodies are seen on the ground - this is not gruesome but may be distressing for children who understand what is being depicted.
  • The legend of the Water Man tells that after drowning in a great flood, he miraculously comes back to life (attributed to a mystical rock he discovered in a mine) and spends the rest of time searching for his wife’s body so he can resurrect her.
  • A dream sequence depicts dead bodies floating underwater, including the body of the Water Man’s dead wife.
  • Jo and Gunner become trapped in a forest fire - they are saved by Amos, but their terror and risk of death may distress some children.
  • Devastating floods and wildfires are depicted throughout the film - this may distress children with lived experience of these events.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Depictions and discussions of death and grief in relation to cancer are prevalent throughout the film - this will likely distress children with lived experience of loss, cancer, or illness.
  • Amos shakes Gunner by the shoulders and yells at him to stop being distressed by his mother’s bald head as he is “upsetting” her – this may distress some viewers.
  • Jo and Gunner discuss their experiences of mistreatment at the hands of their parents - Gunner describes his father as emotionally withholding and feels like he is “never enough” for his father - Jo implies that she has been physically abused by her father (this is later confirmed when it is revealed that a large scar on her neck was caused by her father) - she also lives in a tent in the woods.
  • Gunner reads a book about human anatomy and notes about resurrection and immortality are seen in the margins - this is paired with ominous music and may distress some older children.
  • Jo’s father suggests that she shouldn’t be friends with Gunner because he is African American - this may upset some children.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • Pringles
  • Apple iPhone
  • Apple iPad
  • Apple earphones.

Sexual references

  • None noted.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Gunner finds his mother’s morphine pills.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • B.S.
  • Crap
  • Damn
  • Hell.

In a nutshell

The Water Man is the directorial debut from David Oyelowo (who also stars) and tackles difficult subjects of loss, family discord, death, and what makes a meaningful life. The strong direction and performances balance the simplicity of the story to produce a moving film about life and loss from the eyes of the children it impacts. Due to its distressing themes and frightening sequences, this film is not suitable for children under 10 and parental guidance is recommended to 13. Consideration should be made about the suitability and impact of this film for children with lived experience of cancer, familial death, child abuse, or natural disasters.

The main messages from this movie are that having a strong, open, and honest parent-child relationship helps support through difficult experiences; and sharing a loving relationship with your family for a short time is better than having an unloving relationship with your family for a long time.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Honesty.
  • Courage and compassion for friends, family, and strangers.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • The consequences of shoplifting - Jo steals several candy bars from a store and threatens Gunner against snitching on her.
  • The consequences and dangers of running away from home - Gunner runs away from home to find the Water Man and puts himself in danger as a consequence.
  • The risks of using swords, blades, and knives - Gunner takes his father’s decorative samurai sword to protect himself in the forest.
  • The risks of entering a stranger’s home - Gunner visits the undertaker’s home (whom he does not know) without his parents’ knowledge.
  • The consequences and impact of racism - Jo’s father suggests that his daughter shouldn’t be friends with Gunner because he is African American.