Told backwards, Shimmer Lake is the kind of crime drama that very much revels in keeping it’s audience in the dark. There is no hand holding here. No re-explaining things that the audience might miss. This film, from first time director Oren Uziel, is the kind of calling card that has been used to launch careers, like that of Quentin Tarantino.
In order to describe this film, the plot must be kept deceptively simple. First of all, telling this story backwards only serves to underscore what we are seeing on screen. By dint of the fact that we want to know why a scene is starting the way that it is, and the shock we feel when it ends abruptly, is palpable throughout this entire film. Not only is this story told backwards, it is is also told over the course of a week. It follows a local sheriff trying to figure out the moves of three local criminals as well as a bank heist that didn’t go as planned.
On the face of it, Shimmer Lake sounds like your garden variety 2 Days in the Valley or Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. However, the sheer irreverence of this film makes it better than those decades old offerings. Shimmer Lake honestly belongs in the company of Pulp Fiction. If you’re not quite ready to make that leap then it at least stands shoulder to shoulder with Reservoir Dogs. With a cast that includes Rainn Wilson, Ron Livingston, Benjamin Walker, Rob Corddry and Stephanie Sigman (among others), this movie really straddles the line between deadly serious and darkly comic.
Then there are these motifs where characters are getting shot in every backward layered chunk of film. Sometimes, they even have the same person getting shot in different chunks. How about Oren Uziel’s casting of both Ron Livingston and Benjamin Walker. These two actors look like they could be brothers. Over the course of the film, that looks like it might be one of the biggest reveals? Two law officers and one of them is dirty…Or are they both dirty? Why does this matter? Well, as you spend the movie trying to be one step ahead, trying to figure out what is going on in each section, trying to make sense of the titles that attempt to explain each section, the merging of these characters becomes harder and harder to ignore. It is almost as if Oren Uziel is trying to say that nobody is innocent. We all commit crimes in some form or another.
There is a harshness to the look and feel of Shimmer Lake. Some people might mistake this as unevenness on the part of a first time director. This truly doesn’t seem to be the case at all. In trying to keep us from figuring out this story, the director seems to have intentionally made the film’s presentation confusing.
Ultimately, the viewer is left to interpret the almost Saw-like ending that Shimmer Lake poses. Are we watching a cautionary tale? A dark comedy? Both? Director Oren Uziel has weaved a lot of string for viewers to play with. And at the end of the film, depending on your preference, he either tied the whole thing up in a neat little bow or you just didn’t connect the dots. Either way, the story of Shimmer Lake is there. You just have to see it. And you can right now, as it is currently streaming as a Netflix original.