SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: One of the overlooked benefits of seeing movies at a film festival is this: no preconceived notions. You get to pick through a bunch of indie titles using a still frame from the movie and a synopsis the size of a haiku as your only guide. Walking into "Waterborne" I had no idea if it was a comedy, a horror flick or a documentary. Trust me, this is a great way to approach a new movie.All of the water in Los Angeles has been poisoned by a terrorist. No showering, no cooking, and certainly no drinking. How would you deal with it?
That's the cleverly intense concept put forth in the debut film from director Ben Rekhi, and the guy scores himself a bases-clearing triple in his first trip to the plate.
Those expecting a rock-em sock-em espionage adventure in the vein of 24 might go away disappointed, but Waterborne is not all that interested in make-believe heroics. His movie is about what actual "normal Joe" citizens would have to contend with in a situation like this, and the movie is as surprisingly insightful as it is fascinatingly grim. It's like a realistically creepy episode of The Twilight Zone as written by a particularly colorful sociologist.
Waterborne is a tale told through three distinct plot lines; each story has its own set of painfully 'normal' characters whose paths end up diverging at the end ... and the collision isn't exactly pretty.
Thread No. 1 follows a pair of college boys who try to flee L.A. and hole up with their Dad in the mountains.
No. 2 details the plight of an Indian-American family as the inner-city tension starts to rise.
No. 3 visits with a young man who is equal parts husband, father, and well-intentioned member of the U.S. National Guard.
To divulge extra details would be a disservice to the movie, but let's just say that Rekhi and his fantastic cast do a bang-up job across the board. Waterborne commanded the interest of this easily-bored movie nut with very little effort, and I left the festival screening sure that I'd just seen one of the event's biggest surprises. I was not at all shocked to hear that Waterborne won an Audience Award at the end of the festival.
Rekhi is careful never to let his story become too outrageous or sensational, smartly choosing to focus on the human element at every turn. Familiar faces like Chris Masterson and Mageina Tovah deliver excellent performances, but it's the collection of new faces that help Waterborne succeed all the more. If the point was to capture how the average citizen might react to such a horrific terrorist attack, the fact that we don't actively 'recognize' many of the actors only strengthens the film's impact.My one (minor) gripe is that Rekhi perhaps allows certain sequences to run on too long; there are a few moments where a scene's point is concisely made well before we cut to one of the other plot threads. Perhaps one brief trip to the editing bay could make "Waterborne" even better, but as it stands now, the flick is still entirely compelling and definitely worth seeing.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Independent Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.