Reel Reviews | Lakewood (TIFF ’21)

by Kristen Lopez | IndieWire

There’s been no better time to craft a single-person thriller, especially with the pandemic forcing creators to limit how many people are on set.

It also posits a challenge: How does someone maintain suspense with one person for a feature-length amount of time? This question has been answered with features like “Locke” or the Ryan Reynolds-starring “Buried,” another solo thriller written by “Lakewood” screenwriter Chris Sparling.

The elements to make something good are there. Sparling worked with material like this before — much of his filmography is focused on high-concept thrillers with a limited cast. Naomi Watts is usually able to deliver a quality performance. And director Phillip Noyce perfected material like this in the ’90s with “Dead Calm.” Unfortunately, no one is at their peak in this maudlin, truly terrible thriller that relies far too heavily on manipulation and narrative revision to deliver a “message” that we don’t need to be spelled out for us.

We meet Amy Carr (Watts) as she’s waking up her teenage son, Noah (Colton Gobbo). The family’s been through it in the last year, losing the family patriarch in a car accident. It’s made Noah pull away from his family, barricading himself in his room. Doesn’t seem weird at all. Amy decides to go for a jog, only to hear that a school shooting is taking place at Noah’s high school. With no one willing to pick her up and an Uber trying to figure out where to pick up Amy in this Applachianesque forest, the desperate mother will have to do something to get at the truth of what’s going on.

Interestingly, Sparling also wrote the script for Gus Van Sant’s critically excoriated 2015 feature “Sea of Trees,” set in Aokigahara, otherwise referred to as the Japanese suicide forest. Sparling appears to enjoy forests as metaphors for isolation and confinement, as we’re given many scenes of Watts aimlessly running through trees like a nightmare. The metaphor isn’t exactly complex.

The rest of the film follows Amy making phone calls and running. So much running. It becomes unintentionally hilarious to watch Amy try to run miles upon miles, but Sparling’s script sees mothers as that special breed who can run marathons with no water or lift cars in the air. All that magic and yet Amy can’t get an Uber for over an hour and absolutely none of her friends are willing to come get her.

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