For many parents, the worst words they could ever hear are “there’s an active shooter at your child’s school.” For a moment, just imagine hearing that. So many children’s lives could be in danger, a national spotlight is thrust on your community. The place where your children go to learn and grow is in mortal danger.
— James Mackin @ TIFF (@JamesMackin10) September 14, 2021
Lakewood is a new film from Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce, the director behind several Hollywood classics like The Bone Collector and Clear and Present Danger. His newest film stars Naomi Watts (from Mulholland Drive and The Impossible) as an American mother who hears that phrase.
Her son, played by Colton Gobbo (from Ginny & Georgia), doesn’t want to go to school that day, but his mother forces him out of bed. She goes for a run, spending a lot of her time taking phone calls from worried friends and family as the anniversary of her husband’s death is coming up.
When she sees the police cars speeding past, she’s not worried. When she sees the alert on her phone, she’s confused. But when she gets a call from a friend that there’s a situation at her son’s high school, that’s when her maternal instinct kicks in.
This is a very minimal film. It’s 84 minutes long, and for most of the film the only character we see is Watts’ Amy Carr. From the point she realizes her son is in danger, the film kicks into overdrive, focusing on her running through the forest while attempting to contact anyone she can who will give her more information.
From trying to call her son, to nearby businesses, to 911 dispatchers and investigating detectives, this film couldn’t exist without the modern smartphone. Lakewood creates tension from the disconnect Carr exists in. She spends the entire film among the beautiful early autumn woods of North Bay, Ontario (where the film was shot).
But her lifeline, her connection to what’s happening is her smartphone. Using her phone, she becomes a detective, a navigator, and perhaps a lifesaver.
This is what can make or break the film for the viewer. The majority of the 84 minute runtime is focused entirely on Watts, and her efforts running through the forest while on the phone with numerous other characters. Excluding her son, we never see any other person. The film only utilizes the other characters voices on the phone.
This makes for a very intense viewing experience. We are placed in her shoes during what must be the most horrifying moment of this character’s life. Short of turning off the film, there’s no way to leave this intense experience. It can be triggering for many.
It plays similar to films like Buried or The Guilty (also playing at TIFF this year). There’s not a lot of variety in the scenes depicted, but every scene increases the tension by staying with that one character and depicting their journey in full.
But where Lakewood differs is its setting. Buried and the Guilty are both claustrophobic films, set primarily in a coffin underground and a 911 dispatch office respectively. Lakewood has a character on the move in a serene forest. The juxtaposition of the beautiful setting with the intense material makes for a frightening experience.
This certainly isn’t a film for everybody, but it does a fantastic job of portraying an unfortunately common horror of the 21st century.