Thursday 11 March 2021

The Winter Lake (Ireland/Canada 2019: Dir Phil Sheerin)

Elaine (Charlie Murphy) and her errant teenage son Tom (Anson Boon) have fled to Ireland - and Elaine's great grandfather's house - to escape an incident where Tom assaulted someone with a knife.

Elaine understandably blames her son for having to uproot the family and occupy a cold draughty house in the middle of nowhere. Tom, a taciturn, self-contained figure, explores the local area while his mum is in town trying to sort out single parent benefits. While digging around in a pond, he discovers something so shocking that he scoops it up and takes it home; it is the skeleton of a baby.

In town, and with her car failing to start, Elaine meets a helpful guy who turns out to be their next door neighbour. He is Ward (Michael McElhatton) who also has a teenager; daughter Holly (Emma Mackey). The forthright Holly instantly makes Tom feel awkward, even though they're broadly the same age, compounded by her assessment that Elaine is making the moves on her dad.

Village lad Col (Mark McKenna) who clearly has some history with Holly, takes an instant dislike to Tom, and the feeling is mutual, leading to an incident where Tom attacks Col and becomes a marked man in the village. But that's the least of his problems, when he finds out the truth about the skeleton and is asked to assist in an act of revenge.

It's perhaps not hard to see where the story of The Winter Lake is heading, bearing in mind its small cast and increasingly nihilistic atmosphere. The movie's setting is definitely case of the 'the harmony of scene and situation'; the backdrop is Irish rain, miserable roadside cafes and empty amusement arcades. So while's there's no denying that the film looks and feels authentically gloomy, unfortunately the story feels too flimsy to contain the weight of the mis en scene

Boon is convincingly angst ridden as the troubled Tom, but Murphy remains unfocussed as put upon mum Elaine, and McElhatton has perhaps rather too much of the pantomime villain about him; it's left to Sex Education's Emma Mackey to carry the piece, but it's not really enough. Sheerin's debut feature shows up much of his training in short films - small details represent broader themes - but overall it's light in content, and what remains is a feeling of misery in search of a convincing narrative.

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