TIFF Review: Naomi Watts Delivers a Gripping One-Woman Show in 'Lakewood' Directed by Phillip Noyce

Starring Naomi Watts
TIFF Review: Naomi Watts Delivers a Gripping One-Woman Show in 'Lakewood' Directed by Phillip Noyce
7
In Lakewood, directed by Phillip Noyce and written by Chris Sparling, the anniversary of the death of a husband and father approaches. For everyone watching the film, it's been a hard year, and for Amy (Naomi Watts) and her two children, Emily (Sierra Maltby) and Noah (Colton Gobbo), they are still attempting to heal from their loss. Trying to adjust to a new reality isn't easy for Amy, especially when her son is unwilling to open up to her, but she tries to keep her family together. Soon, however, her town is struck by a frightening epidemic, and keeping her family together may be out of her hands.

It's evident quite quickly that this film was shot during our current pandemic. With an overabundance of bird's eye view shots as Amy does her morning jog, Watts is onscreen alone for most of the film – and spends much of it running. But it isn't a peaceful run, as she receives a handful of phone calls and is alarmed by passing police. Eventually, she puts her phone on silent and we are able to appreciate North Bay, ON's scenery, like the calmness elevated by the flowing creek she rests near. Then, the jarring sound of an emergency alert breaks the stillness and Amy is thrown into chaos as she learns a shooter has entered her son's high school and desperately tries to figure out what's going on and if her son is safe. With a weak cell signal and no car, she runs back to town as though her life depends on it. We know as little as she does about the situation, and her recklessness to find answers risks putting her son in even more danger.

Lakewood is a tense, rollercoaster ride of emotion. Through Watts's performance, we feel her distress, exhaustion and anger over being left in the dark. Carrying a film alone isn't an easy task, but she manages to keep the audience engaged throughout. Shoutout to her calves, too, because she really does run for most of the film and I don't know how she managed to do that and talk and convey so much emotion at the same time.

Noyce and Sparling are dealing with a sensitive subject that has been a heartbreaking reality for many, and it almost goes in many wrong directions. We are thrown for some loops that might make some viewers worry about where the narrative is going, and the film could have ended much earlier — but the filmmakers pull it off, handling the subject well. Having a degree of disconnect (by only knowing what's going on through Amy's phone conversations) helps the director to tackle the tough subject of school shootings without simply throwing us right in the middle of the terror.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (Boies Schiller Entertainment)