The Winter Lake is a Chilly Family Drama that Lacks Depth
Director: Phil Sheerin Starring: Emma Mackey, Anson Boon, Charlie Murphy, Michael McElhatton Running Time: 92 minutes
An Irish-Canadian co-production, director Phil Sheerin’s The Winter Lake intertwines two family stories in the chilly backdrop of rural Ireland. Tom is a troubled and broody adolescent, who arrives in what appears to be an inherited old farm with his equally troubled young mother Elaine. Both Tom and Elaine seem to be running away from something, although details of their past are sketchy. At the outset, Tom is meandering around the outskirts of the farmland, and ends up digging something out of a lake. This “something” is what sets in motion the rest of events that unfold. The moody teenager meets Holly, a charismatic but distant woman who takes an interest in Tom. At the same time, Holly’s father Ward and Tom’s mothers Elaine develop what appears to be a burgeoning fling. As secrets about Holly’s past and Ward’s true character are gradually exposed, both Tom and his mother find themselves implicated.
The Winter Lake is yet another Irish film that is shot extremely well. Like recent features like The Hole in The Ground and Sea Fever, there’s cool lens that we see events through, and the rural surroundings are beautifully amplified. It’s an impressive step onto the big screen for Emma Mackey, who made her bones in the Netflix series Sex Education. Mackey’s Irish accent is convincing, and she does the best she can with the character. Charlie Murphy is her usual impressive self as Elaine, and Michael McElhatton embodies a similar intimidating presence that he has so often showcased in Game of Thrones. Anson Boon is arguably the standout as lead role Tom, oozing a sense of teenage insecurity and jittery anxiety from his first on screen appearance.
In spite of these positive points, no amount of beautiful scenery and competent acting can mask the frustratingly shallow depth of the plot. It’s made very clear that both families have had a troubled past, but this is rarely explored with any detail. The tension building between the two families is buried by B plots that don’t really go anywhere interesting, and this is frustrating because there’s both the scope for further development and the on screen talent to execute it. An early discovery in the first act sets off a chain reaction of events, but the problem is that the events themselves just aren’t very interesting. Main characters Tom and Holly don’t really gel, and this lack of chemistry makes it harder to get invested in their love story. Whether it is indeed a love story is itself highly questionable. With Tom in particular, there’s a real moody teenage vibe that makes it difficult to lend any empathy, and the cold relationship between him and his mother just doesn’t come off as very convincing. By the time the third act kicks in, the events that are supposed to be climactic end up being pedestrian, and slightly confusing. This isn’t helped by the fact that, in spite of the generally good cinematography, the darkness of some important outdoor scenes makes it tricky to physically see what’s happening.
There’s an overriding bleakness in The Winter Lake. When you learn of important plot details, this bleakness makes perfect sense. There’s a sense that the director is trying to infuse social commentary into the story, amplifying the dark and damp Irish secrets of the past by making it a central plot point, and almost a character in itself. There’s the impression that this is what the point is. But the problem is that many audiences will find the film too dull to care. The build up is slow, and the pay off comes across as rushed.
It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just that it’s not very good.(2 / 5)