Matt Wolf (Matt Wolff) is a twenty-five year-old New Yorker looking for some purpose to his life. He finds it when he answers a newspaper ad looking for volunteers at a summer camp for autistic children. A natural, Matt gets assigned to Rob and Wayne, two boys who, like many in the camp, can’t speak. As Matt and his kids get closer, he becomes involved in a running feud with Ernie (Ernie Jurez) whose aggressive tough love methods don’t sit well with Matt’s patient demeanor. He also becomes briefly involved with Rachel (Phe Caplan), a pretty counselor who’s overwhelmed by the demands of the camp. It doesn’t help when twelve-year old Jessica, one of Rachel’s kids, takes a secret liking to Matt. Before long, much to Rachel’s chagrin, Matt realizes that Jessica is reaching out to him, using characters from her collection of animal figurines in a mysterious attempt to communicate with him. Rachel’s ill-advised actions to suppress this connection inadvertently place Jessica in grave danger. In a dizzying and unforseen twist, they also just might save Matt’s life.
“Paradox Lake” is a fascinating film; one that, not incidentally, serves as an excellent primer course on autism in its many and varied forms. Director Przemyslaw Shemie Reut combines elements of a documentary — all the camp footage was shot using real counselors and their kids at a real camp for autistic children — with narrative plot points intertwined amongst the documentary footage. In fact, even the actors became trained counselors and were working at the camp throughout the production of the film.
The result is a very stripped down, yet soothingly ethereal narrative. This is a film that requires some patience, however. It’s such an unusual way to tell a story that the viewer spends the first few minutes simply trying to decide if “Paradox Lake” is a documentary or not. It also takes quite a while for the film to get up to speed which allows plenty of time for such distracting ruminations.
“Paradox Lake” is nonetheless a challenging film at every turn; an unorthodox and mesmerizing drama turned semi-mystical fable.