Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Naomi Watts attaching her name to any project is usually a mark of quality. Watts takes chances with the films she tends to choose, making any movie in her filmography worthy of watching at least once. Phillip Noyce (2014’s exceptionally good The Giver) directs this harrowing thriller imagining a parent’s literal worst nightmare. Noyce kickstarts the stop-at-nothing motherly energy Watts previously channeled in both The Impossible and The Ring films into a memorable new character, Amy. Supercharged with Watts’ searing lead performance, Lakewood is a solid thriller that hits gripping highs as it approaches an explosive climax.

Amy’s morning routine starts as a day like any other for the devoted mother—get her youngest, Emily (Sierra Maltby), safely onto the bus, and annoy her son, Noah (Colton Gobbo), senselessly until he gets up to get ready for school. She tells both children not to forget about family movie night, then heads off for a long peaceful jog. What starts as a call about an audit, then another about her daughter’s school art show, begins to take on an ominous turn as Amy spots several police cars whizzing by her route. Amy, still haunted by the tragic death of her late husband, takes a moment’s reprieve to listen to voicemails from him in an effort to feel a sense of comfort. In an instant, everything changes: all schools are placed on lockdown due to an “ongoing incident.” Unable to get in contact with her son, Amy launches into full-on panic mode. What follows is an intense series of phone calls and gorgeous scenery, as Amy desperately tries to verify Noah’s safety.

Lakewood is expertly scripted in the way that it slowly unravels the threads of the plot. Each intense phone call made by an out-of-breath Amy as she races through the woods trying to get someone to pick her up propels the story forward. It takes a hell of a lot to make a movie consisting largely of phone conversations into something compelling (look no further than another TIFF entry The Guilty), which makes Lakewood all the more impressive. With Watts as its lead, the film exemplifies the fears of millions of parents in this same situation.

A couple minor flaws aside (Amy has some great cell service and phone battery for being so deep in the woods!), Lakewood is a well-made thriller that succeeded in freaking me out and drawing tears by the time it concluded. 2021 seems to be a calendar year for countless school shooting films (Mass, The Fallout, Run Hide Fight)—Lakewood’s approach through a parent’s perspective in real time is heartbreaking, horrifying, and upsetting all at once. In reality, the fact that so many shootings continue to happen on a day-to-day basis is just tragic. I hope we can continue to spread awareness and improve drills in relation to school shootings specifically. No parent should ever have to face the fear of the unknown, nor should the countless victims of these shootings continue to die without justice. It may not be perfect, but Lakewood is a tastefully-done thriller with a fantastic turn from Naomi Watts.

Lakewood screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

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