The Movie Waffler New Release Review [VOD] - THE WINTER LAKE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [VOD] - THE WINTER LAKE

the winter lake review
Relocating to rural Ireland, a withdrawn teenager makes a gruesome discovery.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Phil Sheerin

Starring: Emma Mackey, Anson Boon, Charlie Murphy, Mark McKenna, Michael McElhatton

the winter lake poster

The Winter Lake, a gloomy debut feature from Phil Sheerin, along with writer/scorer (impressive!) David Turpin, establishes a primordial Ireland in its claggy opening scenes. In a bare woodland our young protagonist implies his troubled nature by scraping out the blacked skull of a dead farm animal with a hand knife: the marshland where this happens is wet and cold, the surrounding soil and sedge treacherous. A gravestone grey sky is enormous and unforgiving.

These elemental signifiers set the harsh tone of what is to follow in The Winter Lake’s narrative, a brutal story wherein raw urges and instincts have lead to ugly death. It’s a relief when Tom (Anson Boon) is called back to the grey cottage where he presumably lives by a woman across the way. Judging her maternal insistence, we may guess that this woman (Elaine - Charlie Murphy) is Tom’s mom, although, her age makes this seem unlikely (Boon is 21, and although I couldn’t find any concrete details, Murphy can’t be more than 10 years older surely?).

the winter lake review

It turns out that they are actually mother and son, a visual disparity that the film lampshades at least once when Elaine mentions having Tom young. It is a seemingly deliberate obfuscation, and one which is typical of the adumbral mystery which The Winter Lake proposes throughout. There is the question of Tom’s conception, along with the reason why the pair have recently hot footed it to the back of beyond, plot points which the script deliberately obscures, and this is even before Tom happens upon a bag of infant bones barely buried in the swamp, igniting the central mystery in The Winter Lake’s fog of enigmas (a question which is perhaps less deliberately unanswered is why someone would make such a hash of burying a body so that a simple townie can happen upon it during a brooding wander in the woods...).

What is however palpable is the sense of place which Sheerin and co create. The claustrophobic community, with its rustic violence and simmering tensions, is convincing. How else to explain why girl-about-small-town Holly immediately hooks up with the near mute Tom: I mean, what else is there to do here? True to its Pastoral Gothic genre framework, the threat of sex is seeped into this landscape: insinuating urgent, lawless couplings. An early attempt by Holly to seduce Tom sees her taking a piss on the side of the lane in front of him, to which he is severely nonplussed: they do things differently in the country.

the winter lake review

The great Emma Mackey plays Holly, whose gothicky demeanour, in a pleasing congruity to the outdoorsy violence and forbidden passions of The Winter Lake, will apparently see her play Emily Brontë next year. Here, she is part of a devoted cast who go a long way to anchoring the ambiguous disposition of the story.

As the film conjures up such an oppressive atmosphere of mistrust, any fule kno that the sad fate of the baby isn’t simply going to be a case of a postpartum depressed mother. There has to be a villain, and at least some sort of payoff to the mystery. The issue is that, despite the narrative being otherwise as grimly abstruse as the grey skies which weigh heavily upon the characters, you don’t need a passing familiarity with Gothic and its thematic interest of incest to figure out what is afoot...

the winter lake review

Despite the shallowness of the story, and murky waters of the plot, within The Winter Lake there is still an abundance of quality. The performers commit to the vagaries of the situation, and the style is substantially desolate; perhaps not a deep dive, but the above attributes make this a lake worth a skim.

The Winter Lake is on UK/ROI VOD from March 15th.

2021 movie reviews