Sometimes, you just get the sense that something isn’t being handled the right way. Now, I’m sure that everyone involved in Lakewood were convinced that they were making something important and respectful. You don’t get Naomi Watts in the lead role without that conviction. However, the movie, playing at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, leaves you feeling icky. No one moment does it, but the final product is off in some real notable ways. The way it approaches an all too real tragedy leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Despite a little bit of buzz here at TIFF, this flick is destined to be forgotten about.
Lakewood is a shell of something superior like Mass. Whereas the former is going for cheap thrills, the latter is all about realism and emotion. That makes all of the difference here. While this is more exciting, it all feels false. The tragic nature of the premise could front a number of different types of films. Why Watts and company chose this one to make is beyond me.
Amy Carr (Watts) is ready to exercise after sending her daughter Emily (Sierra Maltby) off to school. Her high school-aged son Noah (Colton Gobbo) is self-sufficient, so she heads out to jog. While out for this run, several miles from home she gets a number of calls. Some are personal, some are work related, but the tension is rising. Then, the mother’s world comes crashing down in one fell swoop when an active shooter drill is announced on her phone.
Absolutely desperate for information, Amy soon confirms that Emily is fine, but Noah’s school is on lockdown. Someone with a gun is there and the police are calling to ask about Noah himself. As she navigates all of this, she tries to better understand her son, as well as see if there’s a way for her to save the day.
Naomi Watts does a lot here with a little, and that’s worth praising. She gives her all, so even if that’s in service of a lacking product, is admirable. At the same time, her character is so underwritten, you’re always just watching Watts. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s really nothing here for her. Colton Gobbo barely registers, with the same going for Sierra Maltby. You’re watching this for Watts, if you’re watching it at all.
Director Phillip Noyce approaches this with plenty of seriousness, but the material doesn’t deserve it. Noyce and Watts have a class about them, but they struggle with writer Chris Sparling‘s trashier screenplay. Noyce and Sparling are a weird match, and it shows in Lakewood. They try to get a lot of mileage out of their protagonist using her phone for information, but it gets old quickly. Then, the gross nature of the premise takes over and fully turns you off. In particular, the way they toy with your emotions early on is fully risable.
Lakewood is the worst film I saw at TIFF. Some of that likely is that it pales in comparison to Mass (which really should have been playing here), but it’s also just a wildly misguided and mediocre movie. Whatever early potential is here, it dissipates very quickly. The end result? Mediocrity.