Friday, 12 March 2021

THE WINTER LAKE review

Relocated from Leeds to a farmhouse in rural Ireland, troubled teen Tom (Anson Boon) uncovers something disturbing in the lake at the border of his property, hiding what he finds in a box under his bed. Befriended by his neighbour Holly (Emma Mackey), it soon becomes clear that she and her controlling father, Ward (Michael McElhatton), may be involved in what he's found, putting Tom's and his mother's lives in jeopardy when the truth is in danger of being revealed.


Scripted by David Turpin and directed by Phil Sheerin, this Irish thriller sees Anson Boon's Tom and his single mother Elaine (Charlie Murphy) forced to uproot their lives when Tom gets in trouble with the law (in an incident that isn't fully explained, but involved Tom using a blade as a weapon), and Elaine's grandfather's empty house in Sligo presents itself as the best option for them to gain some distance and hopefully have a fresh start. As Elaine sets up the house for their new way of life, she relies on the kindness of neighbour Ward for rides into town, and his daughter Holly to keep Tom out of trouble, unaware that Holly's no stranger to trouble herself.

I don't think it's unkind or presumptuous to suggest that a large section of this film's audience will be drawn in by the appearance of Sex Education's Emma Mackey. Best known for her role as Maeve in Netflix's hit teen sex-comedy (and for everyone on the internet pointing out that she bears a passing resemblance to Margot Robbie), this is Mackey's first big screen role - before she appears in Kenneth Branagh's Poirot sequel, Death on the Nile, whenever that is eventually released - and she impresses in a part that allows her to showcase her dramatic capabilities, and - what is to my ear, at least - some decent accent work. Ruled by her father's watchful eye who's fearful of the local boys's teenage libidos in a town where there's little to do, her character Holly isn't as innocent as she appears and is well aware of how to manipulate the men around her for her own ends. It's a solid dramatic performance from Mackey who shares some meaty confrontational scenes with the excellent McElhatton, and is a promising indication for what's to come in her career.

In fact, The Winter Lake is a film of four strong performances in the key roles that arguably outstrip the material they have to work with. As the brooding Tom, Boon may not have an awful lot of dialogue, but he does well to make Tom more appealing than a petulant wannabe thug, even if some of his teenage character's motivations (do what the pretty neighbour girl tells you to) may be a little bit obvious. The figure who elicits the most sympathy in the film is Tom's despairing mother Elaine. Clearly frustrated by her son's refusal to communicate with her, she's simply a woman at her wits end hoping to change her life in order to protect her son's. Thanks to Charlie Murphy's performance, this is shown in what's possibly the stand out moment of the whole film, as Elaine lets all of her feelings boil over into an emotional monologue as she shares her feelings of hopelessness at her son's bedroom door.

Shot in a way that accentuates the gloom of the location - the winter lake of the title is a particularly unwelcoming place to be - the lingering dread that starts from Tom's discovery at the lake builds into palpable tension as the story progresses to its finale, and Ward suddenly doesn't seem like the welcoming neighbour he once was. For the most part there's a nice mix of the cold, open landscapes and the drab, colour-bleached interiors, although as the film enters its final act, it's so laden with shadowy dread that it requires a real effort to make out what's actually happening on screen. The revelations at the heart of this 'family secrets' thriller will surprise no-one, but there's enough weight to the performances in The Winter Lake to make it an enjoyable watch.

Verdict

3/5

The Winter Lake will be available on Digital Download from 15th March

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