Daria Gamliel for Cinetalk.net

Sometimes, it’s interesting to watch a film with no prior knowledge of its cast, ratings, or plot. But now and then, a movie appears with such polarizing reviews, it piques Cinetalk’s curiosity.

Phil Sheerin’s The Winter Lake decided for itself that it required a watch. Some audiences loved it and others hated it. To be fair, the plot is interesting, if not entirely original. A young man and his rather inept mother move to a remote area with only one neighbor in proximity. Young Tom (Anson Boon)’s mother is not just clumsy in her parenting, but downright rude. She treats the boy like he’s a naughty toddler. She has not created a warm and loving home, but a coldhearted prison. Rather than trying to engage with her son, she prefers to get drunk and order him around. Tom’s new neighbor-friend Holly (Emma Mackey) is also caught in a slippery parent-child relationship. Cue the attraction to the only other teenager in close range. Cue the potential romantic entanglements of adults who should probably keep well away from one another. And then there is the ubiquitous plot twist.

Though somewhat formulaic, Sheerin has created atmosphere, character development, and creep-out factor using just the natural setting around a turlock. In Ireland, a turlough, also known as a “dry lake” is a body of water that forms in a low-lying area on limestone. This is not a true lake, but a kind of overflow caused by the welling up of groundwater in wet weather. And boy is this Irish location…wet. Much of the atmosphere is created by the gloom and palpable dampness. The constant rain adds a particular aesthetic and a feeling of hopelessness.

Some reviews mention shoddy acting, but here’s where Cinetalk has to disagree. The only negative point is perhaps more about casting. Emma Mackey does a fine job but may be a bit too old for her role. Though her character is a teenager, it is at times unsettling that she has such a mature face. That aside, she does make a convincingly troubled and lonely adolescent.

Perhaps a few of the plot points could have been better incorporated, but overall The Winter Lake is an atmospheric analysis of poor parenting. The onslaught of negative feedback surrounding this film is overkill. Maybe people were expecting more of a suspense-horror flick. Indeed, some of the suspense is weakened because its mystery is revealed early. But then why not view the story for its other slant? Audiences may have overlooked the whole part about abusive family ties. This is what makes things chilling. It is not the driving rain, or the dark sky, or the moody teenagers, but the secrets family keep. The family unit is unstable, just like those Irish skies.

The Winter Lake is available on VOD on all major platforms as of July 1th, 2021 in Canada!