The atmospheric and character driven approach helps to set this movie apart from the rest, yet the script may be too weak for the talented performances to carry.
Written by Becca Johnson
Offering an equal dose of coming-of-age and mystery thriller, 'The Winter Lake' follows awkward shy teen Tom (Anson Boon) as he discovers something grim under a lake near his house. This takes him on a haunting and sinister journey, as he realises his neighbours Holly (Emma Mackey) and Ward (Michael McElhatton) are harbouring secrets that might be better left unsaid.
The tense and uncomfortable atmosphere is set from the get-go, with the cinematography focusing on groggy and damp rural landscapes. Not only are the visuals equal parts beautiful and depressing, but they really amplify that small-town feel that helps thrillers come across as raw and chilling. Silhouettes are also used prominently to the movies advantage, adding some flair and extremely memorable shots. The score amplifies the atmospheric approach; it is very prominent and haunting, yet never overpowering.
The coming-of-age element is great, largely due to the performances. Emma Mackey (Sex Education) and Anson Boon (1917) give very promising and believable lead performances. Tom is very shy and isolated, often at the opposite end of his Mother's (Charlie Murphy) endless worry and blame. Holly is a more confident and bold individual, yet the more we learn about her, the more we realise she may not be what she seems. Charlie Murphy shines as the young and concerned Mother of Tom, and it's interesting to see how her character plays out. She has obvious similarities with both Holly and Holly's father Ward, allowing her to form a pretty instantaneous connection with Ward especially. Though the movie is set over a short period of time, we are able to see her grow as a mother as she attempts to keep her withdrawn son safe yet disciplined. Writer David Turpin has focused mainly on emotions and characters, and this works favourably.
However, as interesting and dimensional as the characters are, the same cannot be said about the plot which leaves much to be desired. The mystery element that attempts to be the driving force of the movie is revealed very early on, resulting in a slow paced second half that makes everything from here on feel inconsequential and uninteresting. Even when the audience are kept in the dark, the mystery is simply not compelling enough to draw us in as much as it wants to. It's undeniably heartbreaking and harrowing for the remainder of the run-time, but it fails to remain as engrossing as it previously was. That being said, the ending was very climactic and took a violent turn, managing to provoke emotion and fear onto the audience.
The Winter Lake is an extremely well-acted thriller flick. The focus on character development and emotions is what makes the movie shine, as well as hosting beautiful visuals and sound. Unfortunately, the plot side of the script isn't compelling or cohesive enough to create an entirely effective thriller, though the makings of such movie are clearly present. Director Phil Sheerin is one to watch after this promising feature debut.