The kind of serious, well-meaning embarrassment that some reasonable viewers will find gripping and morally urgent, Phillip Noyce Lakewood turns a school shootout into a thriller built around a woman and her cell phone. Having had success with an actor and a phone in the 2010s Buried, writer Christopher Sparling returns to the well, stranding his protagonist (Naomi Watts) in the woods as she desperately tries to find out whether her son is alive or dead. A case study of how storytelling devices can sabotage a courageously vulnerable performance, the film addresses the deepest fears of American parents but is only a step or two away from inviting ritualized community mockery, to the Bedroom, at the midnight screenings.
Watts plays Amy, whose husband passed away almost a year ago. Teenage son Noah (Colton Gobbo) has particularly suffered from the loss and this morning he is pretending to be sick to avoid school and the constant bullying he faces. After encouraging him to get out of bed and go to class, Amy sets off on a jog through the nearby woods.
The bottom line
A truly horrible scenario made almost laughable by the artifices of the narrative.
By setting up a series of phone calls and automated reminders while she runs, Amy recalls a truism that too few people seem to know: whether you text and walk (or phone while driving, or Googling while watching a movie) , you are doing two things wrong when you may well be doing one. This divided attention routine, while familiar, makes viewing boring. But think twice before you wish the real action started.
Even a viewer who avoids reading the diaries before seeing a movie will have a good idea of what to expect when they see Amy’s first police car race on this tree-lined road. But it takes time for him to realize that the crisis in his community can also be his. Her phone screams with an alert: Local schools, including her daughter’s elementary campus, are on lockdown after Noah’s high school shootings. After many agonizing minutes, Amy is frightened to learn that Noah has indeed gotten out of bed and gone to her campus. She’s obviously too far from home to run back to her car, so she starts desperately trying to find a way to get to the community center where authorities are reuniting parents with their children.
Being less preoccupied than she with this mission, viewers will think of the clues Noyce and Sparling dropped: Maybe the troubled Noah is the boy with the guns.
In this variant on cinema screens (Research et al.), viewers are liberated from the digital device that becomes Amy’s entire world. As she answers call after call, uses maps and call center apps, we peek through the treetops whose fall colors appear in John Brawley’s photograph. We can anticipate what Amy doesn’t: the crooked ankle, for example, which forces her to jog for much of the movie.
Simultaneously trying to get out of the woods and piece together exactly what’s going on with her son, Amy enlists strangers on the phone in increasingly wacky ways. The moment she asks a mechanic in a garage to watch her son – “if you see a teenager with brown hair …” – was, for this viewer, the moment the unintentional comedy kicked in. The extremes of grief and despair cause people to do and say ridiculous things; in a movie, this ridiculousness can be heartbreaking, but only when we don’t feel manipulated. With so many Sparling scripts seemingly designed to artificially complicate an already devastating situation, you might start to fear that Amy would approach the edge of the woods, see her son’s school from a jogging distance, and be run over by Bigfoot beforehand. let it escape from the trees.
The final act drops the realism we thought the movie was aimed at, ridiculously positioning Amy as some sort of negotiator, balancing two phones for a four- or five-way call with a SWAT team behind the scenes. Isn’t Amy’s situation terrifying enough, without the pitfalls of Hollywood thrillers and action movies?
As in the recent Penguin flower, Watts gives it everything for questionable material, and in this case, its director is a veteran with several good films to his name. But it’s not enough to sell this fundamentally flawed film, especially when it culminates in a “this has to stop!” »Of nauseating evidence! message about school shootings.
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