Phil Sheerin’s bleak Irish drama is held together thanks to its four leads and some superb direction. The Winter Lake slightly lacks in its plot development; however, those wanting a low key mystery drama are in for a treat.
Both holding secrets of their past former local Elaine (Charlie Murphy) returns with her English born son Tom (Anson Boon) to her hometown in Ireland. Due to an incident in Leeds, Elaine can barely hold her angst towards her son as they salvage a life together in her grandfather’s old farmhouse. He discovers something that should have been long buried on a walk towards a lake that shrinks in size randomly. Soon the duo befriends neighbours Ward (Michael McElhatton) and his daughter Holly (Emma Mackey), who also hold secrets of their own.
Tension is rife throughout The Winter Lake; scenes build purely from the natural tension that is produced. The mystery of why Elaine and Tom are back in Ireland lingers during the film, though hints are sprinkled during the runtime. Ward is defensive of any boy around Holly. But more so than a normal father would be, providing the audience with an intrigue of mystery as to their relationship. This mystery and the constant levels of mistrust between everyone has the characters and the viewer on edge. Leaving us to wonder where exactly the film is leaning towards and is life as friendly as it is made out to be with this community.
Despite everything that The Winter Lake does well, exceedingly well in some cases, it never lets you in enough to feel for these characters. While confessions from the female cast pull you towards them. By the time they reveal some backstory, it is just too late for audiences to care as much as they should. Yes, what happens in those speeches is terrible, yet it takes too long for these scenes to happen.
There is also a struggle in that Elaine and Tom’s angst goes on for too long. She continually belittles or blames him for anything that goes wrong and for their current situation. This dynamic is purposely disjointed, and as they are so cold to each other that it causes another reason for the viewer to want to care for either of them. The true compelling dynamic is with Ward and Holly, as we watch their story pan out, which is where The Winter Lake is at its strongest. They rise above the script and provide sensitive performances in a film that dawdles far too often.
The script’s weakness is plain to see and becomes a disappointment when we see how potentially effective it can be with this cast. The lack of oomph in the plot has the film stagnant, with it potentially needing to be a touch longer to flesh out more of the characters. Otherwise, all of the events just come off too clean. David Turpin’s script doesn’t need to spell everything out to the audience. Yet other than a few monologues, The Winter Lake never tries to engross the audience enough.
Sheerin’s direction, however, is impeccable; he sets the tone early and makes sure that the audience knows that this isn’t going to be a happy outing in the Irish countryside, even if there are some humorous moments from the locals. Ruari O’Brien’s desolate cinematography helps focus on the point that these characters are alone in each of their ways. Their isolation shown via his expanse, haunting shots of the countryside that Elaine and Tom have relocated to. The film’s grim nature is strengthened by the darkness and lack of lighting in Elaine’s home. The feeling of safety never comes through for these characters as they go through the film. At all times, second-guessing and reacting instead of being proactive fills them, and the production team wonderfully reinforces this.
With such a great plot set up, direction and performances from our four leads, The Winter Lake is a missed opportunity as it becomes too engrossed in its mystery of the story to ever move forward in a meaningful way. A film that could have been so much stronger than what we eventually get.
The Winter Lake will be available on Digital Download from 15th March.
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