You know that trick where you ask someone to spell “most”, then you ask them to spell “boast”, then you ask them what they put in a toaster, and then they say “toast”? Which is wrong because — gotcha! — you put “bread” in a toaster. It’s a dumb mental trick that plays with how your brain anticipates information. It sees certain things and then pre-loads itself based on your ideas of structure and patterns. It gets ahead of itself because it has spent your life accumulating expectations. Shimmer Lake is an intricate exercise in structure and expectations. It’s also one of the tidiest and most fiendishly clever crime thrillers since Fargo.
Oren Uziel is one of a half dozen people credited with the 22 Jump Street script. That’s got to count for something. Otherwise, he seems to have gotten his jacket caught in the door of the slow moving Mortal Kombat franchise as it trundles towards wherever it’s going. Currently nowhere. He wrote the horrifying horror comedy Freaks of Nature, which Columbia Pictures quietly strangled in the crib, so you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s for the best. He’s also the co-writer of whatever this Halloween’s Cloverfield movie is. We’ll see how that turns out.
But in his first attempt at directing a movie, working from his own script, Uziel proves himself beyond reproach with the brilliant Shimmer Lake. The story is simple. There’s a bag of money and various people want it. That’s pretty much all you need to kick off a movie. How many times have you seen that? There goes your brain, getting ahead of itself.
But Uziel’s script reveals itself as a blueprint for a thrillingly unconventional structure. Even its sense of humor plays with structure. It shows you a punchline that you don’t realize is a punchline. Then it later tells you the joke while you don’t even realize you’re being told a joke. As with the events of the movie, the tumblers fall into place and suddenly the lock pops open with a satisfying click. You didn’t even know you were watching a comedy.
The picaresque cast slips comfortably into its assortment of roles. Mostly the sort of dim-witted small towners and wacky cops that inhabit a Coen brothers movie. But the actors play adroitly to their strengths, ranging from Rainn Wilson’s peevish desperation to Wyatt Russell’s easy charm to Rob Corddry’s annoyingly smug idiocy to Stephanie Sigman’s smoky beauty. Again, like the tumblers in a lock, everyone fits snugly into his assigned place and the lock pops open and — gotcha! Uziel knew you were going to say “toast”.
Shimmer Lake is currently available on Netflix.