Mister Smith Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Philip Noyce
Writer: Chris Sparling
Cast: Naomi Watts
Screened at: TIFF Digital Cinema Pro, 9/13/21
Opens: September 12th, 2021 (Toronto International Film Festival)
It’s a delicate task to take real-life events and adapt them since those who have been affected may not want to relive their traumas in a much more public forum. There are films and television series based on true stories that attempt to stay as close to what really happened as possible, out of respect for the people afflicted and to represent something that resembles truth. Others are more exploitative, seeking to create popcorn entertainment from a devastating occurrence that has left many injured or dead. Navigating that balance is difficult, but the tense thriller Lakewood approaches its subject matter, school shootings, with a mix of sensitivity and cinematic scope.
Amy (Naomi Watts) is a mother in a small town still mourning the death a year earlier of her husband. After ensuring that her two children, Noah (Colton Gobbo) and Emily (Sierra Maltby), are set in the morning, she takes off on a run through the woods. She alternates between energizing music and a number of phone calls to a car repair shop and her mother. When she receives an emergency alert that there is an active shooter situation at her son’s school, she frantically tries to get information so that she can do everything possible to protect him.
Knowing the general plot of this film is instructive to its tone, but what defines this experience is that, while audiences may know the beginning of the horrifying news that Amy has no idea she will receive, that’s the extent of it. Viewers are trapped with Amy as she tries desperately to navigate the woods and figure out the quickest path out to civilization, wondering how long her cell phone battery will last and whether she’s likely to sprain her ankle before she manages to reach anyone else.
This topic will surely be triggering not only for anyone who has been through a school shooting or other horrible violence, but also for those who remember the agony of not knowing if a loved one is safe or remains in harm’s way. That her cell phone works is miraculous, but it almost makes it worse that she’s able to pull up videos and make outgoing phone calls since that doesn’t enable her to be any closer to her son. She can access so much information yet is hopeless to actually be present and change an increasingly worsening situation.
The lengths Amy does go to in order to try to ensure her son’s safety, even from an afar, are a combination of maternal protectiveness and impulse overdrive. Tasking the people responsible for fixing her car with searching the school parking lot for her son’s car and looking up license plates feels like a definite overreach that might not be either possible or legal in reality, but that’s part of what this film seeks to portray: the fierce commitment to family that any parent would feel and act on in these circumstances.
This film will be best experienced without knowing about plot details since that most closely mirrors how Amy feels, and the rollercoaster of emotion she endures as she learns new details but has no way to confirm or follow up on them. It all builds to a powerful, emphatic conclusion, one that surely is not universal but has a lingering impact. This film is not recommended for those who have ever been through anything like what it showcases, but those who have not will likely find an emotionally draining anxiety trip with a solid lead performance from Watts that straddles the line between respectful tribute and straight thriller.
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B