Naomi Watts is a mother on the run in Philip Noyce’s manipulative melodrama
Dir: Philip Noyce. US. 2021. 84 mins
Naomi Watts runs the gamut of emotional trauma and physical exhaustion in Lakewood. The latest, high concept, what-are-the-odds scenario from screenwriter Chris Sparling (Buried, Greenland etc) puts the actor through her paces as a mother facing escalating panic over the fate of her son. Directed with brisk efficiency by Philip Noyce, the mix of adrenaline-rush emotion, manipulative melodrama and moralising is surprisingly entertaining in the moment. It could secure a theatrical life but might have even brighter prospects under the wing of a streaming service.
Lakewood is one of those films where your head wants to dismiss it as cheesy B-movie nonsense whilst your heart is racing along and you feel every jolt of the emotional rollercoaster
A year after her husband’s death in a car accident, Amy Carr (Watts) is holding family life together. Sparling quickly establishes her superwoman status as she juggles countless demands, prepares daughter Amy (Maltby) for her day and prods slothful teenage son Noah (Gobbo) into attending school. Taking a “personal day” off from work, she heads into the local woods for a stress-busting run that is endlessly interrupted by calls from work, family and friends. Noyce allow us to breathe in the calming beauty of the Ontario locations and the warming glow in the reds and golds of the turning autumn leaves. Overhead shots establish a sense of Amy’s isolation as she runs along tightly packed forest paths and past rushing waterfalls. It is the calm before the storm.
The first sign that something is amiss comes as police cars race down a country road, lights blazing and sirens wailing. There is an ongoing incident at Lakewood High School. The whole area is now in lockdown. Every parent’s worst nightmare unfolds as Amy seeks to find out exactly what is happening and whether her son is safe.
Lakewood stays remarkably involving despite the fact that it mostly consists of Amy running through the woods making frantic calls on her smartphone. Unanswered calls to Noah, pleas to the authorities for any scrap of news, requests for assistance from work colleagues and friends all help to maintain the urgency and drip-feed key plot developments. Amy stumbles, falls, and harms herself but just keeps going fuelled by the kind of fierce maternal instinct that also drove The River Wild (1994) or Panic Room (2002).
A scenario that revolves one woman and a phone brings to mind the Barbara Stanwyck classic Sorry Wrong Number (1948) or the more recent Halle Berry vehicle The Call (2013). It is a perfect showcase for any performer and it is easy to see why the challenge would attract Watts, who is also a co-producer. She confidently carries every scene, making us invest in Amy’s nightmare and tireless determination. Sparling provides information and twists that flesh out the basic story while Noyce maintains momentum and focus, incorporating brief montages of old photos to punch up the family ties and squeeze at the heart strings. There is little time to pause and reflect as Amy is obliged to become a breathless combination of Usain Bolt, Jessica Fletcher and Mother Courage as she races to save the day.
Lakewood is one of those films where your head wants to dismiss it as cheesy B-movie nonsense whilst your heart is racing along and you feel every jolt of the emotional rollercoaster. Perhaps that qualifies it as a guilty pleasure.
Production companies: Untapped, Boies Schiller Entertainment, Limelight
International sales: Mister Smith Entertainment firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Andrew D. Corkin, Chris Sparling, Alex Lalonde, Zack Schiller, David Boies, Naomi Watts, Chris Parker, Dylan Sellers
Screenplay: Chris Sparling
Cinematograpy: John Brawley
Editing: Lee Haugen
Production design: Zosia Mackenzie
Music: Fil Eisler
Main cast: Naomi Watts, Colton Gobbo, Andrew Chown, Sierra Maltby