A Celebration Of The Dark Comedy That Is Netflix’s Shimmer Lake

Going into Shimmer Lake — which is about a bank heist gone wrong, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake — is a little odd. It’s a darkly-lit crime thriller told in reverse, just like Christopher Nolan’s 2000 Oscar-nominee, Memento. Anyone who’s watched the Guy Pierce-starrer can confirm there’s nothing funny about a film where a widower with amnesia attempts to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife. Yet, Shimmer Lake, which on paper sounds like a modern update on the classic, is filled with veteran comedians. There’s Dwight Schrute, I mean, Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally of Mindy Project and Happy Endings fame, Great News’ resident crotchety old man John Michael Higgins, and Ron Livingston, who’s best known at That Guy From Office Space.

With all these funny people rounding out the cast, it sure seems like Shimmer Lake is supposed to be a comedy. And if you pay attention, the movie is wickedly funny in the same vein as Fargo, which also skewers small town life. The darkly humorous parts become obvious thanks to deputy sheriff Reed Ethington (Pally). In the first 10 minutes of the film, Reed walks to the police cruiser and expects to sit shotgun next to his partner, sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker). But a mailman of all people is in his seat. Instead of calmly hopping in the back, Reed walks a few years away to dramatically scream “Why!” in an alarming display of emotions.
Soon enough it’s pretty clear why Reed is so emotional about a chair. Every time Zeke picks his partner up for patrol, someone new is riding shotgun. At one point, Zeke’s adorable front-seat sitting young niece Sally tells Reed, “Get in the back you fat fuckin’ bastard.” The deputy sheriff’s face of pure disbelief is priceless, as is Sally’s pleased smile to her uncle.

The most grimly funny scene, however, happens to be the moment judge Brad Dawkins (Higgins) dies. It’s revealed the married family man is pulled into the complex bank heist because he’s hiding the fact he’s gay while preparing to run for the Senate. Amid all the criminal tension, Brad invites his young male lover named Billy (Matt Landry) to his home for sex. Billy loves meth and ends up rushing to the bathroom since the drugs “flushed him right out.” At that exact moment, fellow conspirator Andy (Wilson) shows up to collect the stolen money, which is in a duffle bag.

As a gun-wielding Andy and Brad fight over the criminal cash, a completely naked, sweating Billy hides in the bathroom attempting to stop his extremely noisy bowel movement. The juxtaposition is ridiculous. Just when Andy and his loaded pistol are about to leave, Billy very loudly loses his battle with his intestines. Andy rips opens the bathroom door to finds a nude Billy screaming in his face. All together, the young man shrieks for about 15 full seconds as Brad and Andy fight over the gun. When the weapon goes off, leaving Brad the casualty, Billy promises not to say anything and darts out of the bedroom still totally naked — but not before carefully picking up each and every piece of his meth paraphernalia.

You might come to Shimmer Lake to figure out this winding murder mystery, but you’ll stay for the unexpected flecks of humor.