If it weren’t for the thick coating of melancholy that cloaks Phil Sheerin’s The Winter Lake, along with its powerful performances, it would have been a relatively straightforward, run-of-the-mill thriller. The story itself is nothing to write home about, but layers of complexity are added by expert actors who know how to read between the lines and ensure that we read along with them.
The sullen Tom (Anson Boon) moves to a remote Irish home with his resentful mother Elaine (Charlie Murphy). The skies are perpetually grey; it either rains or fog descends upon the land like a heavy blanket. One day, Tom discovers a sack containing a baby’s skeleton in a nearby lake. He promptly hides it in his room.
Thankfully, there are the neighbors, Holly (Emma Mackey) and her overly protective father Ward (Michael McElhatton), to distract Tom from the gruesome discovery. Tom’s lonely mom, desperate to make an impression on Ward, doesn’t pay much attention to the fact that her son’s off with Holly; the two realize they’re each other’s kindred spirits. Ward, however, begs to differ. “I don’t like not knowing where she is,” he tells Elaine, despite her reassurances that Tom is “not that kind of boy.”
Tom and Holly stroll the fields together, ride bikes, visit the local casino – until things get progressively darker. Tom’s violent past surfaces when he slashes Holly’s douchebag friend Col (Mark McKenna) with a blade. His past’s got nothing on Holly’s, though, which is best not revealed here, but a savvy reader may guess it has something to do with that whole “baby skeleton” situation.
“…Tom discovers a sack containing a baby’s skeleton…”
The Winter Lake is assuredly not a light distraction. Beatings, borderline-sexual assault, filicide, potential incest – you name it, it’s here, folks. None of it is explicit or in bad taste, thanks to Sheerin’s sophisticated direction, but still, a dash of humor would have added a little buoy to this lake. That said, the existential angst at least provides character and cinematic grandeur to what could’ve easily slid into “TV-drama-of-the-week” material.
Parental neglect seems to be the prevailing theme, its short and long-term repercussions. Elaine neglects her mentally unstable son, Ward pays way too much attention to his daughter, and as for Holly, well, she won’t be winning any “Mother of the Year” awards anytime soon either. It’s a commendable theme worth examining, but not necessarily under such oppressive scrutiny.
Thank goodness for the stellar cast. As Tom, Anson Boon is a marvel: all inward until he explodes, slashing his blade, shoving his mother, hiding secrets from the audience and himself. The actor’s understated, seething anger is counterbalanced by Emma Mackey’s Holly, who’s brutally upfront, peeing in front of him (gasp!) and offending his mother (“She’s not exactly a catch.”) Charlie Murphy speaks volumes with a gaze, but also verbally, to an empty room, confessing things to her child that will melt hearts. Michael McElhatton exudes malice with fervor.
The Winter Lake may not be the most inviting – it’s cold and foggy, and there are leeches (not to mention dead babies) lurking underneath its glossy surface – but with a committed cast like this, a dive may just be worth it.
"…with a committed cast like this, a dive may just be worth it."