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TIFF 2021: LAKEWOOD Review

By Marina Antunes [09.21.21]


Phillip Noyce certainly knows how to make a good thriller but his latest film is a change of pace for the director whose films are often ensemble pieces. For Lakewood, Noyce teams up with Naomi Watts for what is, essentially, a single person thriller.


Watts plays Amy, a mom who is dealing with typical mom things plus a few extra curve balls. When she leaves the house for her morning run, her teenage son Noah is still home, not feeling well enough to go to school. Amy's making and taking calls, doing the typical mom thing of multitasking when she gets an unexpected call from a family friend asking if she's heard from Noah. It's here, miles from a main road with limited cellphone signal and no car, that Amy is notified of an active shooter situation at her son's school.


For the next sixty-odd minutes, we follow Amy as she calls everyone she can think of, gets creative on her feet to get answers, and makes some tremendous mistakes, all while trying to navigate dense forest and unmarked paths to reach her ride and eventually, the school.



Admittedly, another movie about a high school shooting is far from appealing but Lakewood is less about that than it is the tale of a woman desperate to find answers and working all of the angles, some more obvious than others, to get them.


Writer Chris Sparling is no stranger to telling stories with limitations, he was also behind the Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried, and he certainly thinks outside the box here. Amy uses all of her resources, and some unlikely ones, to help her get answers and while some of them feel a bit unrealistic, they're still within the realm of possibility (thinking specifically of the calls to the shop owner).


While the story takes some interesting turns, this is really the Naomi Watts show. The movie relies almost exclusively on her performance to drive the story and she's certainly up to the task, delivering a strong performance as a mother desperate and willing to do anything to help her son. Cinematographer John Brawley also makes great use of the environment to create a world that is both vast and isolating; anyone who has ever been lost in the woods with no signal will relate to Amy's panic.


Eventually Lakewood does morph into the expected drama, even ending on a note that feels a tad saccharin, but the bulk of the movie manages to be interesting and engaging, in large part thanks to Watts's performance.


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