• Festivals

2021 TIFF Notes: “Lakewood” (2021)

Australian director Phil Noyce was, like most of the world, stuck in lockdown during the first Covid wave when he read Chris Sparling’s script for Lakewood.

The nerve-rattling thriller follows a mother (Naomi Watts) racing desperately against time to save her child. Noyce was immediately struck by not only the themes as a parent himself but by the fact he could make this film – with the lead character alone in almost every scene – during the pandemic.

“The idea of escaping lockdown to go to northern Ontario and make a movie with an actress that I’d admired and wanted to work with for many years was just too hard to resist,” Noyce said at the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. “It was the perfect antidote to that Covid feeling of having no end in sight to the inactivity all filmmakers and crews were stuck with.”

In the thriller, the widowed mother of two is out for her morning run in the dense forest near her Ontario neighborhood when a friend calls with terrifying news: authorities are in pursuit of an active shooter, and her teenage son, Noah, may be trapped inside the school with the shooter. The film unfolds almost exclusively from the point of view of Amy; jogging, running and occasionally limping toward the school on her cell phone, using the only resource she has to try and help her son survive the attack. As well as living through every parent’s worst nightmare, Amy is also grappling with another unthinkable possibility; her son may be the shooter himself.

“It touched me in ways that I wouldn’t have been touched ten years ago because now my son is a teenager, like Naomi’s kids, and the fears are not just because of the issue of gun control but also because my 13-year-old is now becoming his own self, and I wonder who that person is – and that’s how I connected with Naomi, because she was wondering the same things about her two boys.”

Behind the simplicity of one character taking us through the entire film was a massive logistical nightmare, made only more intense by strict Covid guidelines for the skeleton crew (nobody tested positive during the shoot).

“The first two hours of every day was taken up with organizing all the cars that had to go in front of Naomi,” says the director of Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American and The Giver. “First of all, the camera car, then the director’s car, because I’ve got to watch the screen, and then the sound recorder’s car and then the makeup car, and there were about three more cars running in front of her at every moment and they all had to be lined up with people in them.”

The filmmaker credits the fitness and agility of his leading lady with getting them through the relatively low-budget shoot without too much drama. “There were some days she did eleven minutes running through a sequence of phone calls with ten pages of script and it took enormous stamina on her part,” he praises.

Watts (King Kong, 21 Grams and last year’s Toronto hit Penguin Bloom) was equally complimentary about Noyce’s perseverance. “Every day you were thrown obstacles all the time,” she says. “We went for these really long shots and sometimes somebody was falling over but you had to keep going and somehow not break the great shot. Sometimes I’d lose a line and have to make up for it or sometimes we’d lose signal with the other actor on the end of the phone. Phillip had so much energy, he just kept me going. I think we ran two or three miles at a time,” she adds, “but the beauty of it was that the utter exhaustion I felt was also driving the emotion of my character too.”