Interesting. Waterborne got a score of 100% at the Rotten Tomatoes website. That’s from only seven reviews, but still, seven out of seven is a very impressive and unusual score.
Having now seen it, I would have never pegged this as a movie that would impress critics. Not that there aren’t things to be said in its favor, but it looks every bit as low budget as I assume it was, the acting ranges from mediocre to painfully bad (with the National Guardsmen or whatever they are being particularly cringe-worthy), and the cliché-ridden script they’re working from is at least as amateurish as the actors.
In all honesty, what it feels like is an above average student film. Earnest, well-intentioned, but just not filmmaking that smacks of experience, professionalism, or confidence.
The premise of the film is that the water supply of Los Angeles has been contaminated by terrorists. Much like with Right at Your Door, we are shown stories of a handful of regular people dealing with the crisis, rather than more of a global view of the crisis itself.
What’s a little odd, though, is that a fair amount of the action doesn’t relate directly to the terrorist crisis. I understand you may want to establish who the characters are as people first, and indeed that can be a welcome approach in that it lessens the impression that the people in a movie like this have no identity except as “Victim killed by terrorist,” “Brave cop fighting terrorists,” “Member of angry mob screaming for terrorists’ blood,” etc., but it seems like half or more of the scenes in the movie aren’t particularly about the terrorist thing. There’s especially a lot about a Sikh family and their convenience store, and the relationship between the son and his American girlfriend. I suppose that’s a perfectly acceptable topic for a movie, but it just feels out of place here.
The lead actress, by the way, has the kind of mesmerizingly offbeat looks where she’s probably unusually attractive, but with a small chance she’s just odd-looking in a neutral or negative way. The kind of woman that therefore I couldn’t take my eyes off of, and wanted to see from different angles and such, because I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what to think.
There’s something off about the whole story. Here and there the movie wants to turn up the intensity and make it about how people are responding to the crisis with violence and panic (as well as more positive behavior), but it doesn’t feel enough like a crisis for that to work. As I say, there’s considerable focus on other matters, but even beyond that, people aren’t glued to the TV hungry for news, the city isn’t being evacuated, it just doesn’t feel like that big a deal.
Things don’t add up. People panic when they find a store is out of bottled water, and even after just a day or two they act like they’re dying of thirst. Well, drink a Coke. They do mention in passing that some beer is suspect because it was made with local water, but surely the overwhelming majority of beverages in stores and homes and restaurants were not. And if you really can’t find anything to drink, and for some reason no one in authority is bringing in supplies from outside (maybe “Brownie” is in charge?), then leave.
Then the two guys who do decide to leave end up not being able to make it out of the LA area before they’re overcome with thirst. (In a car; they’re not on foot.) Granted, they lost a few hours when they stopped at a friend’s place and got in a fight, but come on. How far away is the one guy’s father’s place out of town that they’re supposedly going to? Two hours? Four hours? Six hours? You can’t make it that far before you’re collapsing from lack of water?
Right at Your Door also doesn’t succeed all that well in creating a believable way a terrorist crisis would play out, and it has kind of a gimmicky ending, but I at least got a little caught up in the suspense and the emotions of following the crisis plot in that movie. Waterborne I think misses the mark even more in creating the right feel for a thriller.
The other movie this puts me in mind of is the wildly overrated Crash. It’s the same structure of interlocking stories set in Los Angeles, intended to make various points about racism and how people deal with stress and conflict and such. Crash of course is vastly superior in terms of production values and having name actors and such; it doesn’t look like something a college kid made over a summer casting his classmates and buddies. But really in most other respects, Waterborne is probably as good or better. It doesn’t strike me as being nearly as pretentious and hackneyed.
Basically Waterborne is a small film that feels genuine, and that’s trying to say some worthwhile things, and therefore I already think more highly of it than I do the majority of mainstream Hollywood movies. But overall, for me, it fails more than it succeeds.