All hope is lost in Phil Sheerin’s directorial feature debut. Sheerin teams up with writer David Turpin for this Irish set drama whose tale is fueled by dark secrets. With an opening scene that gets your cogs turning, accompanied with ominous tonal beats we immediately know we are about to embark on a twisted tale.
Sweeping, wind drenched shots of the chilly countryside set the scene for us as we are introduced to the wide-eyed Tom (Anson Boon) and his mother Elaine (Charlie Murphy) as they move into her late father’s farm house. Gothic, melancholy vibes married with frustration and anger dampen their exchanges, as we quickly become aware Elaine has been forced back to the country because of something Tom did. When we see this already quiet introverted boy collecting skulls and happens to stumble upon a human one, two thoughts pop into my mind: that’s a bit odd and how deep does this rabbit hole go?
We quickly get a sense of the vibe this country town gives off. Youths bored out of their minds as there is nothing to do but drive round in a car all day long and provoke what seems like the only young female in the village, Holly (Emma Mackay) who happens to be Tom’s next door neighbor. Completely and utterly channeling her Sex Education rebel with a tough exterior Maeve, Tom is intrigued by Holly leading to a connection that could lead them both into the face of danger. As they secretly communicate via Walkie Talkie (which frankly had way better signal than any smart phone) as their friendship develops, we see just how toxic the one between Holly and her father and Elaine’s reliant relationship on pain killers and scotch is.
The film is let down by a clichéd jump scare dream sequence; evoking supernatural tendencies, a misleading trope which was never used again. Lingering shots and downbeat music wondering dangerously close to a ghost story, yet perhaps this is a haunting of sorts, thinking you’ve buried your secrets only for them to be washed up and crumble your world. The aesthetics do a good job of making you feel the cold, damp hills of Ireland, not forgetting the bleakness the central character brings – the lake.
Our characters reveal all in a surprisingly short amount of time, yet this just isn’t as thrilling as it ought to be leaving us slightly deflated and waiting for that oomph, accelerating us in crescendo fashion towards the climax. Turpin tackles some heavy subjects with ease and It’s not the predictability that let’s this one down, it’s the drawn out, convoluted way it’s approached. The loss, the abuse and manipulation all play a strong role here only to be diluted by the slow place, startling you when this does finally hurtle forward in dramatic fashion.
Ultimately, The Winter Lake takes us down a path of mystery and provides us with a warped anecdote – some of which we would rather forget.