The line between a film about confusion and a merely confused work is thin indeed in Bette Gordon's The Drowning. Much of the confusion stems from Danny Miller (Avan Jogia), a young man recently released from prison after being convicted as a teen for a murder, thanks in large part to the expert-witness testimony of child psychologist Tom Seymour (Josh Charles). Danny continues to claim his innocence, but the sociopathic way he insinuates himself back into Tom's life, while convincing everyone around him he's sincere about moving on, suggests some remaining loose screws. Still, Danny's unsettling presence draws Tom into reinvestigating the old murder, leading him to reassess not just Danny's guilt but also his own life and morality.
At least, that's the exploration for which Gordon seems to have been aiming. But the deeper Tom wades into this psychological morass, the more Danny's volatile behavior seems dictated by the screenwriters' convenience rather than by any plausible depiction of a tortured mind. And a last-minute attempt to couch the tug-of-war between the two as a case of Danny forcing Tom to reckon with his privileged detachment from his patients' mental struggles seems like a desperate play for significance.
Gordon's 1983 debut, Variety, charted a similar animalistic awakening in a repressed woman's sexual liberation, but there she managed to render the arc as evocatively visceral as well as intellectually stimulating. The Drowning, by contrast, never makes it past the notional stage.