Director: Oren Uziel
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, John Michael Higgins
Watch Shimmer Lake online in the UK: Netflix UK
It’s an irrefutable fact of life that if you’ve seen Memento once, you’ve seen it twice – probably a second time in the right order. That’s testament to how well assembled Christopher Nolan’s thriller is, as it unfolds its tale of revenge in a clever reverse-order. It’s also testament to how integral that back-to-front narrative is to the film’s themes and characters, as it immerses us in the disjointed mindscape of Guy Pearce’s bereaved husband, whose short-term amnesia means he can’t make new memories. Shimmer Lake, Netflix’s new original film, takes a leaf out of the same book, spooling out its tale of smalltown crime backwards. But like Memento’s main character, it doesn’t craft any lasting memories either.
The film, written and directed by Oren Uziel (co-writer of 22 Jump Street), follows a sheriff, as he tries to track down a trio of bank robbers, one of whom is his brother. While that’s a solid starting point (and ending point) for a low-key indie thriller, it never becomes more than a merely competent experiment.
Uziel’s script does well to piece together its puzzle-box plot, introducing twists and surprises in under 90 minutes that manage to keep you watching, but those hooks are never more than superficial. There’s a quietly dark humour to the way that every new chapter introduces us to a new host of characters, who, the last time we saw them, ended up dead, and the ensemble are the kind of colourful affair you’d expect to find in a Coen brothers movie: there’s well-meaning sheriff Zeke (Benjamin Walker), his loser brother, Andy Sikes (Rainn Wilson), an politically-ambitious bank owner with a dubious private life (John Michael Higgins), two incompetent FBI agents (Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston), and the unstable Ed (Wyatt Russell).
None of them, though, feel like more than cardboard cutouts of typical genre stereotypes. Indeed, the backwards narrative mostly comes across as a device to disguise the pulpy conventions on display, rather than a way to enhance the complex web of murders and double-crosses. The tension, meanwhile, is undermined by the movie’s uneven leaning towards comedy. One messy moment in a cupboard, for example, leaves a bedroom confrontation lacking in weight. Unfortunately, despite the talented cast, it’s lacking in laughs too. The same is true of much of the film, although one running gag about characters starting each chapter by waking up abruptly is brilliantly executed.
The result is a film that is ambitiously reverse-rigged, but disappointing when it comes to paying off on the potential layers built up by each subsequent cycle of mystery and answer. Tellingly more forgettable than Memento, this Netflix original is nicely conceived but never more than that. It’s an irrefutable fact of life that if you’ve seen Memento once, you’ve seen it a second time. The same isn’t likely to be true of Shimmer Lake.
Shimmer Lake is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.