Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Scattered Potential: Shimmer Lake Doesn't Know What To Be.

The Good: Good direction, Decent performances
The Bad: Tone is incredibly erratic, Forced narrative conceit, Utterly unlikable characters
The Basics: Shimmer Lake could have been decent if it had committed to being either a comedy or a drama film.

Netflix's film acquisitions continue with Shimmer Lake. Shimmer Lake was quietly released on Netflix last week and it took me the past few days to even realize that it had made its premiere. Unlike one of the major Netflix Original Films releases, Shimmer Lake does not trade on any big name actors to bring viewers in its attempt to get people to watch.

Shimmer Lake is told, day by day, in reverse, in a style a bit less drastic than Memento (reviewed here!). Shimmer Lake uses the technique in a way that is supposed to add intrigue, but it becomes a much tougher sell than one might think. Because the characters are frequently killed before the viewer has any emotional investment in them, it's virtually impossible to care about the characters in Shimmer Lake as the investigation and the crimes intertwine.

Opening on Friday, Andy is hiding out in the basement of his ex-wife's house, when his daughter finds him there. The local sheriff, Zeke, misses finding Andy when he flees through a basement window, steals the neighbor's car and heads out to Shimmer Lake with thousands of dollars in a bag. While the police and FBI investigate a house where they find Brad Dawkins dead, Andy makes it to the Lake. Unfortunately, he is killed there when his ride arrives. On Thursday, Dawkins wakes up, while Steph encourages Andy to go kill Brad. Steph wounds herself to sell her alibi that her ex, who was part of a bank robbery, came over, hit her and ran off. Andy calls in to Zeke, his brother, but lies to him about his location while the FBI investigates another lead.

The film continues to unwind with a series of revelations on how the characters relate, what happened to lead to the two murders seen on Friday and the initial crime that started the chain of events.

Shimmer Lake is a film that seems largely unsure of what it wants to be. The movie employs some wonderful comedic actors - John Michael Higgins, Adam Pally, and Rob Corddry, for example - and includes scenes like a meth head desperately trying not to shit while hiding in a bathroom while two other characters talk in an adjacent room. But the narrative technique forces an amount of attention that is uncommon for comedies and Shimmer Lake includes some fairly gruesome murders and particularly unfunny moments like Steph wounding herself to be able to imply spousal abuse.

The problem with Shimmer Lake having an identity crisis is that the moments in the film fail to land - the humorous banter between the F.B.I. agents dulls the impact of a man's skull getting blown open moments before and the banter feels . . . disingenuous between to largely serious scenes where Andy very seriously interrogates other characters. Shimmer Lake never quite pops as a result of its mood changing dramatically from scene to scene.

That said, Shimmer Lake works well when it commits to its own comedic potential. Rainn Wilson has the intensity to play Andy with the requisite dramatic range and he is matched for the dramatic moments by Benjamin Walker, who plays Zeke. Walker is credible as a small-town sheriff and he plays the part with realistic professionalism. The rest of the movie delivers joy when the comedic performers deliver funny lines with their expert sense of timing. Adam Pally slumps his way through being forced to sit in the back seat of the police cruiser each morning and Rob Corddry is funny and understated as Kurt. Mark Rendall's slack-jawed portrayal of Chris is hilarious.

Unfortunately, the performances quickly undermine the suspense of what is actually going on with the various capers. Stephanie Sigman is too good an actress to hide how smart her character of Steph actually is. As a result, Steph quickly stands out as a prime manipulator in the various plotlines that are filled with bloodshed. Sigman is good; but she cannot credibly play dumb, which is what her character needed in order to make the misdirect work.

Ultimately, Shimmer Lake is a marginally entertaining distraction that has low resonance and does not quite land on any of its intended fronts.

For other Netflix exclusive films, please check out my reviews of:
War Machine
Girlfriend's Day
Take The 10
True Memoirs Of An International Assassin
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
Special Correspondents
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Ridiculous 6


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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