The slow burn of murder-mysteries have greatly faded in recent years, as have many of their noirish undertones. As theatergoers continue to drift into the lands of spandex and pixelated shenanigans, the intellectual whodunit finds itself in short supply. The downside to this development is the lack of thrillers in this vein, where the upside is that – every now and again – you find a diamond in the rough like Shimmer Lake.
Shimmer Lake twists the conventional wisdom of storytelling on its ear by allowing the events of a small-town crime to unfold in reverse order. Working from Friday back to Tuesday, writer-director Oren Uziel constructs a story of despair as a local Sheriff, Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), works to bring to justice three criminals who robbed the town’s lone bank. Learning that one of them may just be his brother Andy (Rainn Wilson), Zeke sets off on a trail of lies and murder, all while the FBI is nipping at his heels (Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston). With a host of suspects, twists, and revelations, how will this path ultimately lead back to Shimmer Lake?
The less said about the film the better, as the discovery is part of the journey. Beginning on Friday’s events, we slowly learn the outcome of this recent robbery. Uziel plots his film methodically, peppering names and situations from the past as a tease for a meal yet to come. Clues are scattered throughout as Uziel weaves us in-and-out of Zeke’s Fargo-esque community, informing us of characters such as estranged couple Ed and Steph Burton and the frigid Judge Hawkins long before we catch a glimpse of the actors wearing those hats (Wyatt Russell, Stephanie Sigman, and John Michael Higgins respectively). Shimmer Lake requires attention be paid, or prepare for a head-scratching conclusion as the pieces finally align for the story’s end game. Or maybe that’s the beginning game?
It’s an audacious direction to stage a screenplay and, with the obvious exception of Memento, it rarely works. Knowing the structure ahead of time gave me pause, worried it would prove to be little more than a well-orchestrated gimmick. Yet once I sat through the final reveal, those concerns subsided and I knew I needed to plan on an immediate return trip. Even as I pieced together the outcome from both the nuggets of information Uziel feeds us, as well as far too many iterations of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes over the years, this film hits my sweet spot. It’s a winning combination of actors playing against type, a looming atmosphere that forebodes the trappings of this town as well as each character arc, and Oren Uziel’s quirky wit which engulfs every scene.
I already can’t wait to head back to Shimmer Lake