Director: Bette Gordon
Writer: Stephen Molton, Frank Pugliese
Based on: Pat Barker‘s novel Border Crossing
Cast: Josh Charles, Avan Jogia, Julia Stiles, Tracie Thoms, John C. McGinley
Seen on: 8.4.2021
Content Note: attempted suicide, stalking, saneism
Psychiatrist Tom (Josh Charles) and his wife Lauren (Julia Stiles), an art teacher and artist, have arranged themselves with their different wishes for how their lives should be. So, Tom spends his time in a small town in New Jersey to enjoy the relative quiet and work on his newest book, while Lauren enjoys the art and culture of New York, but goes to New Jersey whenever she can. On one of her visits, the two go for a walk and see a young man (Avian Jogia) just about to commit suicide by drowning himself. Tom is quick to react, throwing himself into the water and pulling him out. The next day, Tom realizes that he knows the man – Danny used to be his patient when he was a child and Tom’s assessment led to him being incarcerated for murder when he was just eleven years old. Now, Danny obviously wants to reconnect with Tom, but Tom doubts his intentions.
The Drowning is a rather drab paint-by-numbers affair that never quite achieves the tension it would need to pull off its plot. Despite the cast, it remains a very average film.
The first time I saw Avan Jogia was in the series Twisted where he played another Danny. He was really fantastic in the series, as I recall, keeping you guessing whether Danny is good or bad, whether he is the victim he claims he is or whether he is a masterful manipulator. (The series fell apart once it made clear who Danny really was, but as long as it was doing the mystery part, it was very entertaining.) In The Drowning, Jogia was basically called on to play the same character. The film is meant to keep you guessing about his intention and his character.
Jogia does a fine job here, too. The problem is that the script telegraphs the answer to the question “who is Danny?” from the beginning. There is never any doubt here. This doesn’t just mean that the audience’s boredom is likely to spike, it also means that Tom’s reaction to Danny becomes incomprehensible to the viewers. Why doesn’t he see what we are seeing so clearly when it is very obvious? After all, Tom is supposed to be a seasoned professional. (To be fair, it is also incomprehensible what Tom doesn’t tell Lauren and that has nothing to do with Danny and everything with the script needing tension between Tom and Lauren.)
In addition, the film tells a story that we have seen a million times before and that doesn’t become any less problematic with its conflation of mental illness and danger. Can we please, please, please stop with that shit?
In short, Julia Stiles is pretty much the only reason to watch the film and she is so little in it that I’d say, she, too, isn’t enough of a reason. You’ll better spend your time on another film that might even have something fresh to say.