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DISAPPEARANCE AT LAKE ELROD (2021) Review

J-L reviews Lightbulb Film’s DISAPPEARANCE AT LAKE ELROD saying “its best aspects are underutilised.”

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Disappearance At Lake Elrod

Lightbulb Film is excited to announce that their new psychological thriller Disappearance at Lake Elrod will be released on Digital Download and DVD in the UK and Ireland on 1st November 2021. Pre-order now on Amazon and AppleTV.

Disappearance At Lake Elrod will be available to download or stream from AppleTV, Sky Store, Virgin Media, Amazon and Google Play, and available on DVD from Morrisons, Amazon and HMV.

Synopsis

A year after Charlie’s daughter disappears, another girl from Elrod, Georgia goes missing. Convinced there is a connection, Charlie draws suspicion and contempt from local law enforcement and townspeople as she stops at nothing to expose its most devastating and darkest secret.

Review

Lauren Fash’s debut feature, Disappearance at Lake Elrod takes us to the small, sleepy American town of Elrod, Georgia. Here, we meet Charlie (Robyn Lively), a woman who takes medication and drinks at the local bar as a means of coping with the pent-up anger and grief that she has endured for the past year following the disappearance of her daughter, Lily (Kinsley Isla Dillon). During that time, her relationship with her partner Angela (Bethany Anne Lind) has deteriorated significantly as a result.

When another young girl goes missing in the town, Charlie becomes adamant in her belief that the case is related to the unaccounted disappearance of her daughter and starts to personally investigate the incident, bemoaning the apparent incompetence of the local police department and citing a conspiracy. However, as evidence begins to emerge, Charlie becomes a prime suspect herself and takes up the assistance of investigative journalist Amy (Shanola Hampton).

Lively and Hampton offer nuance and complexity to their respective characters, effectively conveying each of their haunted pasts and giving performances that show a deep sense of history and background. However, some of the supporting performances are very lacklustre by comparison.

As a small town mystery and a psychological thriller, the film does little wrong, although this is arguably because it rarely sets foot into new territory. In the places where innovations are attempted, these often feel mismanaged. The ones that work are underutilised, whilst the ones that do not are downright ineffective. 

It is admittedly nice to see the missing child mystery genre through an LGBTQ+ lens, especially when the piece tackles these issues in a mature way without shifting major focus onto its presence. Here, Charlie is a lesbian that deals with homophobia from her townsfolk, both implicit and covert, but the film handles the issue in such a way that does not make her defined as a character by her supposed ‘otherness’ without neglecting her struggles in a conservative town.

As Charlie works to solve the case, she begins to experience strange occurrences. There is a frequent blurring of the past and the present, and of fantasy and reality. She struggles with visions of her daughter and memories from her life. However, whilst these make for some of the most hauntingly compelling and narratively interesting developments in terms of plot and character, Fash should probably have leaned into these horror elements even moreso, as these truly help the viewer to understand Charlie’s mindset and elicit genuine sympathy and mystery.

Instead, the screenplay opts for an abundance of amateurish voiceover and narration as a tool to explore Charlie’s headspace. As such, there are frequent scenes of Charlie reciting cliche dialogue and metaphors galore. Some of the narration is interesting, but because it is used so frequently and so much of it is similar or identical, it quickly becomes dull by way of repetition. Elsewhere, some of the narration is downright unnecessary, serving as a simple dictation of what can be seen, overtly or more subtly, via the film’s visuals or characters’ (re)actions. As a result, some of the better acting on display is severely undermined, as the screenplay opts to spell out certain moments. In turn, the viewer can often feel compelled to roll their eyes when they feel like they are being treated as if they are stupid.

When it comes to twists and turns, some feel predictable although some are genuinely surprising. Meanwhile, some narrative developments and information pieces are quite unclear. Frequent contrivances do little to help. Narrative developments rarely feel natural or unforced, with information appearing exactly as and when it is needed. For the most part, the story unfolds from one place to the next. Consequently, character and narrative struggles never come across like realistic struggles, since they never last for long and we are never given a sense that the uncovering of vital information is difficult. And yet, the rallying cry that “we are close” towards the finale seems almost laughable when Amy proceeds to suggest an almost random person from the town.

Verdict

Unfortunately, despite its best attempts to shake up the formula and offer something new in the mystery thriller genre, it feels quite generic and its best aspects are underutilised. Ultimately, it is all too easy to be left with a deep feeling of disappointment and thinking about what could have been.


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