Saturday 29 September 2012

The Lakeside Killer (2012)

Director: Bret Thomas
Stars: Johnny Ortiz and Jarod Anderson

Given how much fun writer/director Bret Thomas is obviously having with The Lakeside Killer, I wonder why it took three years for him to get around to his second film. Everything is bigger and bolder than 2009's Anywhere But Here, and that spreads beyond the movie itself. The premiere at FilmBar in Phoenix sold out, the film's website is an intriguing attempt at viral marketing and Thomas aims to publicise even more with fake missing posters put up around locations used in the film. Arizona locals will recognise many of these, as this often dabbles in travelogue. The stomping ground of the title character is Rio Salado Park by the Tempe Town Lake, but we're also driven along the 202, over the bridge from the Marquee to downtown Tempe and most of the way down Mill Ave, with stops at places like MADCAP Theatres and the ASU campus. Now that Tempe has a monster movie, I wonder if Scottsdale will feel obligated to get a bigger one.

The Lakeside Killer is a found footage film, but don't let that put you off. It's not that shaky, so you're not going to get motion sickness. It even follows the rules, so avoids editing in camera and, for the most part, deus ex machina plot conveniences. There is one right before the finalé but that's when the real suspense and shock moments kick in, so while you'll certainly notice it, you may not care too much until afterwards. As with Anywhere But Here, the biggest downfall is the sound, but the benefit of this being found footage is that that's not as important. The setup is that Eddie Toren, grieving his girlfriend, Kasey Robertson, is shooting a documentary to look into her death and others nearby, while raising awareness of what the media calls 'The Lakeside Killer' but the cops call coincidence. Eddie is not a professional journalist and his cohort Ty is not a professional cameraman, so their footage not being professional is merely realism.
Given that this footage was found with their camera at the scene of a triple homicide, it's pretty obvious that Eddie and Ty are going to constitute two thirds of the body count, but it's open as to who the final body will belong to. What I found was that it really doesn't matter. I hope this isn't supposed to be a whodunit, as there's little effort spent on pushing us into figuring anything out, merely a vague collection of hints that we're dealing with something a little more traditional in the monster vein than just a serial killer. That isn't to say that the film fails, because I think it works really well as a portrayal of grief-driven frustration. Eddie starts out fed up of getting nowhere with the cops, fed up of being told to wait, fed up of being ignored. He falls apart for a moment during his first monologue to the camera before composing himself. His questions to Kasey's mother are less interview and more therapy. All this is handled really well.

Johnny Ortiz does an excellent job as Eddie. He's rarely off screen and he feels very real indeed, not just because Ortiz subtly explores how much of an emotional rollercoaster Eddie is on, but because Thomas wrote the character surprisingly deeply for someone we know from the outset is going to end up dead. I loved scenes like the one where he orchestrates an interview with a park maintenance worker who had been questioned about Kasey's death, without ever having a clue that the man doesn't speak English. It's a solid combination of emotionally driven success and amateur failure, and it underpins Eddie's journey magnificently. He simply keeps on going because he has to, whatever. Tying this character into a monster movie framework works a lot better than shoehorning 'The Lakeside Killer' into 'The Mud Pond Monster', but the final showdown is surprisingly effective. Just don't make us wait three more years, Bret, for your next short.

Update: the film can now be viewed at the film's website.

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