Our Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewer: Carissa Horton
On a particularly unexciting day in Scotland, young Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel) walks along the beach collecting shells. A habit developed by his father (Craig Hall), before Hitler's war, before Angus was left to walk the beach alone, before his father left to fight. Two shells find their way into his basket, but not even their beauty brings a smile to the child's face. Reaching deep within a tidepool, his hand brushes a strangely shaped rock. Lifting it upwards, he tilts the seaweed and filth encrusted object toward the sun, examining it on all sides. More out of habit than curiosity, he drops the item into his bucket.
Standing at his father's workbench later that evening, Angus cleanses the odd rock only to find that it doesn't resemble a rock at all, but rather an egg. Exerting much effort, he peels a layer of the filth away, revealing a breathtaking coat resembling abalone. At that moment, he is called away into the house by his mother, Anne (Emily Watson). When finally given the chance to return, he finds the workshop dark and on the floor lie the broken shards of the object, now confirmed as an egg. After much searching and following strange sounds around the shed, Angus uncovers the tiniest and oddest of creatures. With flippers instead of feet, the creature grins up at him, eagerly devouring the potato Angus slices for his new pet.
Determined to keep the animal a secret, at least until he can discover its origin, Angus leaves a barrel of water for the creature to splash in and keeps the shed under surveillance. A good plan until unexpected visitors arrive, an entire squadron of British forces taking up residency in the mansion belonging to Mrs. MacMorrow's employer. Compounding inconvenience with inconvenience, Angus now has a surly hired hand to contend with, a man by the name of Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin). Angus is left with no alternative but to move the creature inside the house, mainly the second floor bathroom.
His creature grows enormously with each feeding and it cannot be kept a secret much longer. Point proven when Mr. Mowbray, sent on a mission to fix the plumbing, unmasks the efforts of Angus and his sister Kirstie (Priyanka Xi), a reluctant conspirator. Unexpectedly Mowbray proves himself a friend, even to the point of assisting with the concealment of the creature, now deemed a water horse. But with troops moving regularly throughout the house and grounds and a captain (David Morrissey) determined to spy Germans around every corner, their task becomes increasingly difficult. A delightful movie planned for a Christmas release, I was given the opportunity to attend a private pre-screening of The Water Horse. I was not disappointed. While there are aspects of both E.T. and Free Willy dispersed throughout this film, it is also entirely unique. Just the scenery in Scotland and New Zealand was enough to make me love this film even if not for the glorious overflowing of Scottish and British accents. The CGI effects were truly works of art, absolutely magnificent. I found myself honestly believing that this water horse existed and I, along with every other moviegoer, loved him.
From the moment Crusoe, as Angus named his pet, enters the stage you are swept away into a magical world where anything and everything is possible. Unfortunately, not all in this world is wonderful and heartening. Crusoe, as an adult, undergoes such hardships and terrors that it overcomes his affinity for Angus. Snarling at his former friend and lunging at humans in a violent manner, even capsizing a boat and threatening death to the occupants are normal behaviors for him until Angus reminds him of their friendship. A small child almost drowns, once in a dream and once in reality. Bombs explode underwater. A vicious dog chases a young Crusoe down the hallway with obvious intentions to harm. Later, it is implied but not shown that the same dog is eaten by a monster. Any language is of the mildest sort, consisting mainly of British slang (and at least one harsh abuse of deity).
The movie practically abounds with talent. Emily Watson, convincing as a war-times wife and mother, really gave her role depth. Even the smallest word or look holds a deeper meaning. Brian Cox makes an appearance in the role of Old Angus, telling his story to a couple of young American tourists wandering through his small Scottish town. The children really sparkled, especially Alex who is fairly new to the Hollywood scene. But the chemistry between Ben Chaplin and Alex Etel was really what clinched the movie for me. You have a young boy, deprived of his father during a war, needing guidance from an adult. While the character of Lewis Mowbray is harsh and distant at first, that swiftly changes as he settles into the life of the MacMorrow family. The genuine fatherly affection he holds for young Angus is blatant and obvious by the end, a sincere turn-around from his original emotions. The actors played off each other brilliantly.