Directed by: Phil Sheerin. Starring: Anson Boon, Charlie Murphy, Emma Mackey. Runtime: 1h 32 min. Released: March 9, 2021.
An Irish-Canadian co-production, The Winter Lake surely takes its time getting into the swing of things. It takes time to develop its plot, and even then, it feels like it could always go a little deeper. For example, even with our main character, Tom (Anson Boon), we know that he’s a disturbed teen who always has a knife on hand and is quick to slash it at people as a reaction when things get intense.
The film touches on why he is that way but it’s not much deeper than growing up around abusive relationships that his mother, Elaine (Charlie Murphy) finds herself in, as they often have to move onto the next home after each relationship.
This time, they’ve moved into her grandfather’s farm as her inheritance after he’s passed away. Once there, Tom finds something in the nearby lake that drives the story as it’s a secret that belongs to a neighbouring girl, Holly (Emma Mackey). Once her father, Ward (Michael McElhatton, Game of Thrones’ Roose Bolton) learns that Tom knows about their secret, it launches both families into a violent confrontation.
To talk much about what secret Tom finds within the lake would be a disservice, as it gets unpacked throughout the film but once we have all the information, the mystery sort-of gets sucked out of this little thriller. That’s really a core problem with David Turpin’s script as, while it’s also supposed to be a mystery, the plot feels somewhat obvious and the only “mysterious” thing about it is Holly’s motives.
As character analysis, the film uses the pair of teens to its advantage as it paints a surface level picture of abuse. For Holly, it’s her father’s control; for Tom, it’s the relationships his mother has been in. As well, there’s emotional abuse here as Elaine blames Tom for everything that goes wrong in her life despite her being the one to make these weak decisions. The exhausting emotions the teens have to go through as they deal with these situations is apparent. The adults do have some interesting moments, and a scene where Elaine realizes her mistakes is one of the better displays of acting in The Winter Lake.
There are some moments like these where first-time feature film director Phil Sheerin gets the best out of his actors, but everyone could put their overall performance into a higher gear. The characters feel so plain that there is untapped potential as there are no scenes that showcase the best of Anson Boon or Emma Mackey. Boon goes around wide-eyed or brooding – and Mackey just looks like she’s calculating or terrified half the time.
They are both fine as the core of the film as their characters are both wild cards, but a lot of this goes through the motions of a dramatic thriller. Every dynamic feels obvious and many of the film’s plot points have been used to greater effect in other films. That’s such a shame, too, as David Turpin’s last script, The Lodgers, had interesting world building as an Irish gothic ghost story, where he did manage to delve into the world building of those characters and even incorporate war history of the time.
That film managed to have a richer story, but this one feels too obvious throughout. That film had a core obsession with water, as well, but I recall that one having a bit more vibrancy in its colours. While The Winter Lake is surely capably made, this moody thriller feels cold and desolate. We’re on the Irish countryside and it rains so often that the entire film is depressing. Nothing pops in Ruairí O’Brien’s cinematography and everything feels dead, even in the scenes when it’s not raining. If that dullness is what the film is going for, then it does its job perfectly; as that picturesque dullness unfortunately seeps into the rest of the film.