Some movies come out of TIFF as clear front-runners for this year’s Best Picture race at the Oscars (Belfast, The Power of the Dog), but others may stick with you for other reasons entirely. Lakewood is one of two movies I just can’t stop thinking about this year (Silent Night is the other, if you’re wondering).
Amy Carr (Naomi Watts), bereaved widow and mother of two, puts her young daughter Emily on the bus to school, tries unsuccessfully to rouse teenage son Noah, and then hits the trail for a beautiful autumnal run. It’s supposed to be self care, only Amy doesn’t dare disconnect, fielding calls from work, from mum, from the mechanic, and that’s before her whole world shifts.
Amy learns her daughter’s school is on lockdown. In fact, the whole town, small as it is, is pretty much on lockdown to do an active school shooter situation: a parent’s worst nightmare. Amy is miles from home, and as her worst fears play across her face as she struggles to catch her breath, realizing only her cellphone connects her to breaking news, both good and bad. The shooting is not at her daughter’s school. Emily is shaken, but safe. The shooting is at Noah’s school, but luckily Noah is still home in bed, or so Amy thought. The one time her teenage son listens to her and it’s to go to school on this day, the very worst day of days. Frantic calls to anyone who can help. Pleas for people step up. Pleas to the universe to keep her son safe. Frequent checks with Google Maps to try to navigate her way into town. Obsessive calls to her son, who never answers. Reaching out to friends, family, the mechanic, a 911 operator, the detective already on the case.
This is Naomi Watts’ show. Her hope, her anguish, her desperation. She is every emotion, a spectrum of feelings, cycling rapidly, overlapping constantly, reacting to the changing circumstances like an emotion chameleon. Fear. FEAR. Gripping, panicky fear. Fear that maxes out, subsumes everything, yet still finds room to grow when Amy learns consideration for her son have shifted from potential victim to potential perpetrator. Devastated, her urgency doesn’t relent. Still determined to reach him at any cost, Amy’s beleaguered journey forward is further complicated by flashbacks: her son being bullied, her son’s growing detachment, her son mourning for his father.
The gun in their home.
This role is every actress’s dream, requiring every tool in the toolbox, a chance to showcase talent and skill. It takes confidence to pull off; reaching such a vulnerable place also highlights flaws. Only the very best could properly execute it, and fortunately for us, Watts is among the very best. She doesn’t just pull it off, she plays it with considered subtlety. Melodrama is easier, hard to resist, even harder to avoid, but Watts finds the truth of her character: a mother gets shit done. She’ll fall apart later. Right now, for these 90 minutes, her son needs her, and nothing is going to stop her getting to him.