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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Lake Effect (2012)

Director: Michael Chadwick
Stars: Joel David Maurice, Kate Kugler and Madison Vigiletti
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
This one had me puzzled throughout and unfortunately a second viewing really didn't help. Clearly the title of the film carries meaning, but I'm still lost as to what it really is and it left me with a few different interpretations that are so wildly different that I'm sure I'm way off. All I'm sure of is that the person who falls under the lake's effect is Alex, who's driving to it as the film begins. We aren't given a lot to go on, as neither he nor the young lady accompanying him seem willing to verbalise their feelings quite yet, though they clearly share some. One of my key problems is that we aren't told who this lady is. The credits tell us that she's Julia and she's clearly a good deal younger than Alex, but all we know from this film is that she isn't his daughter who died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning at the very lake they're about to take a boat out onto. That's Anna, who gets as much screen time as Julia, as a vision, but we never learn the connection between them.

The opening scenes are interesting because they refuse to tell us much of anything. This couple drive to the lake, sharing a moment but never speaking. With no dialogue or music to focus on, there's just ambient background noise and visuals, meaning that those visuals had better unfold clearly. which they don't. Two minutes in, which is a full fifth of the running time, we find Alex sprinkling ashes into the water as if this is the final moment of closure. However it's apparently not his first visit to the lake; he takes the boat out every week, morbidly imagining his daughter sunbathing as she did on the day that she died. 'If I put my head in the water,' he tells Julia, 'it's like I'm touching her face.' Here's where we start to cross 'mum' off the potential list of roles for Julia, as she seems to not know the details. She could be another daughter, but she seems too detached, so presumably she's Alex's partner, albeit one much younger than he is.
I'd even wonder if I'm focusing unduly on Anna, because this is obviously Alex's film, but Michael Chadwick, who wrote and directed, keeps bringing it back to her. She can't even nap on the boat without Anna's ghost showing up and bringing her back into proceedings, even while asleep. My guess is that the film is supposed to explore the impact of the accidental death of a child, one of the most brutal things that can happen to anyone, and certainly it's hit Alex very hard indeed. If so, I wonder why Julia is even in the picture, because while Kate Kugler does nothing wrong in the part, she only serves to distract from what's going on with Alex. And what is going on with Alex? Initially I presumed that he was just a tormented father dealing with his loss, but as time moved on, I started to wonder if there's more than just the expected guilt coming into play. Surely every man in this situation wonders about what they could have done, even if there was nothing.

But here, I wondered what he actually did and then I wondered if I was supposed to wonder. Is he feeling guilty because he abused his daughter? Maybe that's why Julia is clearly so much younger than Alex, who looks good but whose facial hair is greying a heck of a lot more than mine. Are we supposed to be creeped out, not by the fact that Anna gets as much screen time as anyone else and she spends the entire film dead, but by the fact that Alex appears to be close to her in ways that are inappropriate as much as those that aren't? This film isn't pretentious art house fodder, but there are things happening here in ways that seem very deliberate while I can't find the right wavelength. I get that sometimes with Ingmar Bergman pictures, like The Silence, so it may be Michael Chadwick or it may be me, but this could be a great film or it could be an awful one and I'm really not sure which. Maybe a light bulb will switch on above my head one day.

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