Netflix Movie of the Week: “Shimmer Lake” is a solid thriller from end to beginning

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Netflix has been buying up and releasing a lot of original movies, which is great news for indie filmmakers looking to get good financing and get their work seen. But it may not be so great for viewers, who have to rely on Netflix’s algorithm to even know the movies are available. “Netflix Movie of the Week” is an occasional feature highlighting a new original Netflix movie you may not have heard about.

For those who like to skip ahead to the last page of a thriller to find out what happens, there’s Oren Uziel’s “Shimmer Lake.” Uziel begins the film on a Friday, at the end of the story, when a desperate man (Rainn Wilson) is trying to escape his small town with a bag full of cash. Then, day by day, Uziel works his way back to Tuesday, and the bank robbery that netted the money in the first place.

It’s not that unusual to start a movie with a scene near the climax and then flash back (“Yep, that’s me. I’ll bet you’re wondering how I ended up here . . .”) But Uziel’s approach is something of a high-wire act, because he’s got to dole out enough surprises as we go back in time and learn more about the characters involved in the heist, even though we know where it all will end.

Or, at least, we think we do.

We learn that Wilson’s character, town prosecutor Andy Sikes, is in on the robbery with two petty criminals he let skate on the accidental death of a child at their meth lab. On their trail is Andy’s brother, sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), a straight arrow who seems to have a big blind spot as to his brother’s involvement in the crime.

As we go back in time, we learn more about the players, including John Michael Higgins as the local judge, who also happens to own the bank, and Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston as a pair of FBI agents brought in on the case.

Uziel has cast a lot of funny people in the movie, including Higgins, Corddry, Wilson and Adam Pally as Zeke’s loyal deputy. But “Shimmer Lake” is not a comedy for the most part, and they all play it pretty straight, aside from a few rather awkward bits of comic business shoehorned in here and there. Some jokes work, such as a running gag about Zeke making Pally’s deputy ride in the back seat of the squad car.

But others, like a man with diarrhea trying to hide from a possible killer, seem tonally off in a movie that has several grisly deaths and a dead little boy as a plot point. I think Uziel would have been better off just making a straight-up thriller using these comic actors — there’s an interesting tension when you see a funny person on-screen deliberately not being funny that can be very effective (see Don Rickles in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino.”)

And the thriller structure itself is pretty sturdy. As the move goes on, it starts getting more serious, and the twists started to get bigger and more audacious, I had to admire Uziel’s skill at pulling it off.

In the end, “Shimmer Lake” doesn’t amount to much more than an exercise in genre — can Uziel tell a story backwards? Can these comic actors play largely dramatic roles?. But it’s an exercise that works.

 

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