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Review: Town in a Lake

By Freddy  /  23 Nov 2016 (Wednesday)

Photo Credit: 27th SGIFF

Town in a Lake is a compelling mystery thriller that wastes no time before diving into its sombre but realistic premise. When a schoolgirl, Natalie, is murdered and her companion, Melody, goes missing, the entire town of Matangtubig is rocked to its core and a search for the perpetrators begins.

Director Jet Leyco crafted the town of Matangtubig masterfully. Rape-murder incident is, unfortunately, not uncommon. But he made it such that Matangtubig is a quaint small town which boasts zero crime rate. Thus, it was believably shaken by such crime. In addition, it is a small enough town that everybody is somewhat acquainted with each other, but big enough for suspicions to grow.

The setting is iconic and apt for the thriller. The low-rise buildings, dense forest, the bridge, and the lake give a glimpse of the peace and harmony that once existed, but they look somewhat creepy at the same time. Despite being set in the modern day, the visible lack of technology lends to a sense of old-school thriller as well.

​Photo Credit: 27th SGIFF

The film features an ensemble cast. There is no main character, as we follow a variety of characters ranging from the mothers of Natalie and Melody to media reporters, the mayor, and local police. The film subtly but openly criticizes media and politics. Some scenes make reference to media sensationalism and hacktivism, while others show the corruption and power play within the mayor’s administration and the police force.

I admire the complexity which truly adds to the realism of the film. In most mystery thrillers, typically all the main characters are single-mindedly focused on solving the mystery at hand, in this case finding Natalie’s murderer and rescuing Melody. This film reminds us that in real life, people have different interests. In one scene, most of the policemen went on a highly-paid escort mission rather than searching for Melody. The mayor is more concerned with the town’s image rather than the people’s safety. The media persistently ignores the family’s grief and privacy in order to get soundbites and scoops.

The acting of the ensemble cast reflects the realist direction that Jet Leyco aims for. The performances are very grounded, often feeling more like a documentary than a fiction. The performances that stand out to me are Mailes Kanapi as Natalie’s mother and Amante Pulido as a father who witnessed the crime.

​Photo Credit: 27th SGIFF

Due to the incompetent police force, the media plays the detective role here. As with any mystery thriller, the film slowly reveals more facts about Natalie, Melody, and the culprit. We find out that Natalie and Melody are smart students who attend a sectarian girl’s school, are close friends, may have romantic attraction towards each other, and had thoughts about running away to Manila, Melody’s hometown.

The strong build up unfortunately leads to an unsatisfying conclusion. The confusing ending feels rushed and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. In the end, the film does not reveal the identity of the culprit and Melody’s fate. Open-ended ending is not necessarily disappointing, but in this case it is.

Therefore, Town in a Lake is best enjoyed not as a pure mystery thriller, but as a dramatisation of a small town’s reaction to a shocking tragedy. The film is best when it portrays how the someone’s death affects not only the immediate family and friends, but also many others who did not know them at all.

Town in a Lake will make its international premiere at 27th Singapore International Film Festival on 25 November 2016 at 4.30pm at The Arts House, and another screening on 1 December 2016 at 7.00pm at Filmgarde Bugis+. Tickets for both screenings can be purchased here.
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