There is something special about a film that tackles intense situations with grace, power, and understanding in a way that impacts the viewer while treading with caution and maintaining a powerful grip on the darkness of its story...
...Phil Sheerin’s The Winter Lake is a shining example of how to do it right. From the powerfully penned script by David Turpin to the commanding performances by the small cast, where each and every actor is more than up to the task of giving their best in every scene, this is a film that will stay with viewers long after the credits roll.
The story of The Winter Lake follows Tom (Anson Boon) and his mother Elaine (Charlie Murphy) who have recently moved into a family home in the Irish countryside. It is a desolate and beautiful area, but the isolation adds an element of instant eeriness. There is an evident strain between mother and son on display in almost every scene they share. Tom is a bit of a lost soul who, in promotional material, is described as “unstable.” While this is true, there is something more to the nuanced performance Boon gives; you can feel his general pain and constant search for something more in every action, word chosen, and word unspoken. Tom and Elaine have moved in next door to Ward (Michael McElhatton) and his daughter Holly (Emma Mackey) whom on the outset seem to have a better relationship than Tom and Elaine. When Tom discovers something while exploring the lake, the good-natured relationship between Holly and her father is shattered, and Ward will do anything to protect this secret. As Holly and Tom grow closer following his discovery, it pushes Ward down a violent road that erupts into a shocking finale.
Every moment is met with such intention and understanding of the scene by each performer. It’s one of the best acted films in years. Emma Mackey’s Holly gives the most refined performance as she has the most to work with story-wise and requires the most range of the four leads. She nails it in every way. That is not to say the others are lacking; each has a clear grasp on the role they are given, and it works in perfect harmony to create beauty out of a horrific tale.
Another strong point in the film is the way everything works together to build tension. The score is understated throughout the film, intentionally subdued and at times unnoticeable. Every chord adds to the sense of unease in the whole feature. Composer August Murphy-King seems to understand the sonic tale that needs to be told along with the visuals. It even feels at times like each actor is also a part of the orchestra, which only adds to their powerful performances.
The biggest strength is the cinematography by Ruairi O’Brien. The countryside is undeniably beautiful, but it takes a certain eye to pull that beauty into a film filled with so much darkness and effectively juxtapose those two contradicting concepts. There is a strength sometimes missed in lower-budgeted films where the cinematography is passable but not on the same creative page. Here, it works in perfect concert with every other moving piece.
The subject matter might be a bit too close to home for some viewers. In fact, this reviewer has turned down reviewing other films of a similar nature. There is something so dark about what transpires that makes it impossible to write about due to personal experiences. That said, a heavy trigger warning should be taken. However, if one can allow the story to unfold and see the ways this film deals with a heavy and heartbreaking tale, there is so much to take away from the performances, script, and storytelling. I cannot give this team enough accolades, from cinematography to acting. Winter Lake may, understandably, be too much for some, but it is evident that everyone involved treated the making of this incredibly dark, powerful film with care.
The Winter Lake is now in Select Theaters and comes to VOD on March 9th + releasing on DVD on March 23rd from Epic Pictures!
By Justin Drabek
Please consider joining us in celebrating Women in Horror Month by donating to CineFemme at https://cinefemme.net/donate/