The Winter Lake is available to stream and buy from 15th March.
If you travel to Loughareema in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, you are bound to stumble upon the mysterious vanishing lake – a geological fascination that can appear full of water or arid. Ghostly tales, superstition and fear, surround its place at the heart of community life; however, its fluctuating level is due to the underground rivers beneath its surface. Here its dark waters are sucked into a series of natural drainage systems before refilling. It’s easy to see why this rare natural phenomenon has created such fascination over the years; after all, any lake that sucks its secrets below is bound to have more than a few stories to tell.
Phil Sheerin’s new film, The Winter Lake, uses the idea of submerged secrets to create a compelling, engaging, taut thriller. Here we find the past traumas of a father and daughter bubble to the surface of a vanishing lake as two worlds collide in a slow-burn thriller.
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Tom (Anson Boon) and his mother, Elaine (Charlie Murphy), hold a secret, their escape to an old rundown Irish farmhouse owned by Elaine’s grandfather wrapped in unspoken anger and denial. Tom’s behaviour led to the sudden move from England to Ireland, with his days now spent collecting items from the lakeshore, from animal skulls to trinkets. Meanwhile, his mum wallows in frustration at her son’s lack of communication. But what is it that haunts their shared past?
It is not long before Elaine and Tom meet their neighbours, Ward (Michael McElhatton) and his daughter Holly (Emma Mackey). Holly quickly takes Tom under her wing; however, Holly also holds a dark secret, and as events spiral out of control, Tom finds himself caught up in a hidden past that may ultimately destroy his future.
Sheerin’s movie is held in a bubble of isolation that envelops the audience, with Tom and Elaine’s complex and broken relationship taking centre stage. Here the bleak winter landscape, howling wind and dark depths of the lake provide us with a foreboding sense of tragedy. The silence of Tom and Elaine’s life is only broken by moments of disagreement and argument as both mother and son attempt to build a new sense of security while avoiding their shared trauma. Meanwhile, as Ward and Holly enter this bubble of isolation, Sheerin plays with Elaine’s desperate for adult company and protection and Tom’s need for friendship.
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However, within the haunting discovery at the heart of The Winter Lake, Sheerin’s film captives and suffers its most significant flaw; a runtime that never allows for the themes at play to find the devastating voice they so richly deserve. Here the film’s slow-building tension, fear and uncertainty culminate in a finale that feels far too quick and dirty given the subjects at hand. The movie’s themes of manipulation, anxiety, and lies, never quite allowed the space needed. However, that does not mean The Winter Lake is a weak film; it has all the building blocks of a highly accomplished social and psychological thriller. Given an extra half an hour to flesh out its relationships further, there is no doubt this could have been a genuinely stunning study of the secrets, emotional closure and manipulation that lie beneath many a family home.