If you had a great childhood, then you’ll have probably been told at some point there is a loch in Scotland that is home to a monster. Loch Ness is a wonderous place, I remember staying near the loch during a holiday and something that stuck with me was on the first day I went to the bank of the loch and just looked out. By this point, I was at an age where I knew there was no monster but when looking out at the body of water, part of me was begging for something to come up from the water. That’s the greatness of the myth, you know it’s not true but part of you wants it to be true. We have all wanted to see some sort of magic in the world we live because we grow tired of logic, and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is a perfect encapsulation of that want.
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep is a 2007 film directed by Jay Russell which tells the story of Angus MacMarrow (Alex Etel) a child with aquaphobia who discovers a mysterious egg whilst collecting shells on the beach which soon hatches into an unknown creature later known as a Water Horse. His father has died fighting in WW2 and is left with his mother Anne (Emily Watson) and sister Kirstie (Priyanka Xi). Soon after the manor house in which Anne works is billeted by an army regiment led Captain Hamilton (David Morrisey). Angus along with his sister and new handyman Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin) needs to keep the creature, now named Crusoe, safe and hidden.
This film is quite special from the rest of other family films, it has taken an already wonderous urban legend and added a dash of extra imagination. This element is recognisable at the beginning of the film in which American tourists being told how the now-famous “surgeon’s photo” came about. A bit of a problem now we know the photo is most definitely a fake bit let’s not get bogged down with that. The tone helps the film along as well, you get major E.T vibes from the film, and I suppose the film follows a similar story albeit having been given a Scottish twist. Nevertheless, the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perfectly suits the film, it’s the individualism of the characters that make it refreshing.
The first time I saw The Water Horse I thought Crusoe was the cutest thing I saw. Now, many years on, I still think that. At the time of release, the film was highly praised for bringing Crusoe to life with its special effects. While age has not been too kind to the film, the design of the monster itself still very impressive. The film spends a lot of time with Crusoe as an infant and it looks like something you’d also want to keep as a pet. Sticking with the Loch Ness myth, it doesn’t stray too far from the plesiosaur-like image we’ve come to associate with the beast and the sound it makes hints towards a more curious personality, the same you would expect from newly hatched chicks or ducks. But Crusoe will get much, MUCH larger as the film progresses and it’s here that the film makes the audience come to terms with the danger the creature poses whilst also keeping its mysticism. The team behind the creation of Crusoe has done a truly remarkable job in bringing the creature to life and having it resonate with audiences.
The human characters have also been shaped extremely well. Three characters resonated with me the most, the first being Mowbray played spectacularly by Ben Chaplin. This character is a grafter who also provides the mythological knowledge of Crusoe to Angus. In the beginning, he is built to be a suspicious character, but you relax into the film and begin to unravel his kind-hearted nature. The other two are the Scottish duo Jock (Bruce Allpress) and Jimmy (Ian Harcourt) who are the comic relief character who have their own side story. With their thick Scottish accents, these two are only in a few scenes but make a huge impact because of how…Scottish they are.
But quite possibly, the most remarkable work is how the film tackles Angus’ aquaphobia. Angus at the start feels a little broken, quite not ready to accept that his father is probably not coming home, which subtly ties into his fear of water. The friendship building with Crusoe brings Angus out of his shell and there is a great scene when Angus rides on the back of Crusoe through the Loch, even taking an underwater adventure. It’s a classic character arc and one we’ve seen a lot of times, but it can only work if we connect to the character relationships, and with Angus’ innocence and Crusoe’s gentleness, it works a treat.
I’ve been waiting to make the diversion from near-perfect films to sentimental films for a bit now. Sentiment is a remarkable tool for writing passion, The Water Horse is a step back in time to a different mindset when you could believe in magic again. Above all else, It’s the characters that make enjoying this film such an ease because you’ll have already been naturally sucked into the appreciation of the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness.