Lakewood @ TIFF

As someone who has lived through a school shooting, I always am intrigued when I come across a film that deals with the situation. This one is a race against time for a mother who goes through a roller coaster of emotions (though I am not sure her emotions are ever at the high inherent in roller coasters…) as she is not sure if or how her son is involved in a shooting at his high school.

Filmed during the first wave of lockdown in North Bay, Ontario by veteran director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Dead Calm) we are taken on a wild ride set largely in the middle of the woods. I am not surprised if you are taken a little aback by that. You would not expect 2/3 of a film about a school shooting to happen in the woods, but yet it does and is very effective at keeping the tension at 11 on 10 throughout.

We find out that the Carrs have had a tough year. Not COVID but due to the fact that their father/husband had died. All are grieving differently. After phoning work to tell them she is taking a personal day and sending her young daughter (Sierra Maltby – Jupiter’s Legacy) off to elementary school, Amy Carr (Naomi Watts – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The Impossible) sets about the thankless task of trying to get her teenage son Noah (Colton Gobbo – from television’s Ginny & Georgia) out of bed and to school. Seems like she has failed, so she decides to go off on her morning run.

While running through the trails which run through the woods near her house, Amy finds out that there is a school shooting happening somewhere in her town. Once she has eliminated her daughter’s school she realizes that it is Noah’s school. Panic sets in as she is not sure if he even went to school and if he did, how she can get there to find out if he is okay as she is deep in the woods miles away from town and the school. Armed with only her cell phone this is a mother who is going to fight to get to her child.

Pretty much a one-woman show, the film asks plenty of its lead actress. Watts delivers in spades! She truly brings to life the fear every parent would feel getting that phone call. She ably conveys the variety of heightened emotions a mother would go through in a situation like this – isolated and unable to get there in person but wanting to save her son. It is a role with elements of heroism and the force of a mother’s love for her child. As a parent herself, I am sure Watts could tap into the “how I would feel in this circumstance” feelings.

My stomach was in knots throughout. Some might get annoyed by the fact that all the “action” takes place on a phone and a crazy amount of phone calls but there are some intriguing questions brought up due to the way the story is told. Such as what would do if you were being told your son was the shooter? What would run through your mind? Would you believe them?

Another aspect of the film which really worked was the cinematography. Really added to the tension. The beauty of the rural area wows in the beginning then becomes a foe to Amy as she is somewhere where she cannot get to her car or even have an Uber/Lyft find her easily. A backdrop/element of the story. It also brings to the conversation that a school shooting can happen anywhere, even in the most beautiful nature-filled setting. Then as the mother finds out about the shooting at her son’s high school the camera of John Brawley (works on the series The Great and The Morning Show) begins to move in a way simulating the mother’s disorientation. Really brings it to life for the viewer.

The story unfolds in real time. this is a high-concept film. It asks a lot of all involved, including the audience. A whirlwind of emotions including fear and exhilaration as it is heartfelt and poignant. Also, a lovely allusion to the power of a community if it works together.