A Shallow Lake – The Song of Sway Lake (Film Review)

Rating:

Add two days at a meditation retreat, an image of a sinking watch, a two-dimensional story and you’ve got The Song of Sway Lake. A piece soaked in pretension as well as choppy editing, though it’s clear that its beautiful aesthetic and musical composition helped sway those at the festivals towards applause. Whether it deserved this, as well as the awards is the only question worth asking.

We follow Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) and his one friend Nikolai (Robert Sheehan) as they revisit the Sway estate in order to retrieve a record valuable to both Ollie and Charlie (Mary Beth Peil), his mother, though for very different reasons. After his father’s suicide, Ollie being a music collector himself – a passion sparked by his dad – wishes to retrieve the record and keep it as a memento of his late father. Charlie would rather sell the record due to its high value and unopened seal in order to move away from Sway Lake. The two clash and unpick past wounds as they both attempt to find it.


The beginning of any film can usually give the viewer an idea of the level of intelligence and grace they’ll be witnessing. When it comes to this work it begins with an exhausting level of pretension in the form of swimming and naked bodies, a sinking watch, a novelistic narration that simply fills in the gaps and spoon feeds the viewer, which is often excused in American cinema and lastly, a choppy edit snapping from one shot to another nudging the viewer into the reminder that this is a construction and a heavy-handed one at best.

Was the disappointment born from the cliché coming-of-age Hollywood addition to the story? Is it ever enjoyable to see the same thing for the hundredth time? No, especially when the predictability scale is off the charts and with this piece it seems to fall into that number. But what do you expect, you have two young males, one timid and sensitive, another charismatic and mad, one ambition in mind, you follow them through drunken antics. Can pretty pictures and music simply let us oversee this lethargic film-making? Maybe.


It’s worth applauding Eric Lin the cinematographer and Ethan Gold the composer, you feel as though they continuously worked together to form a marriage of beautiful imagery and sound. Ari Gold it seems had the talent but not the story and that is the film’s biggest disappointment.

Compassion is absent throughout the story and the lead played by Rory simply encourages irritancy while Robert aids in creating enough stimuli to continue watching. The only performance that stood out among this was Mary Beth Peil, an actress from whom you wouldn’t expect any less.

Ari Gold presents a piece that’s about as real and authentic as bubble-gum tattoos with its thinly sliced story. The Song of Sway Lake is certainly not what one would expect from such an experienced director, though all artists have a bad batch at times.

Dir: Ari Gold

Scr: Elizabeth Bull & Ari Gold

Prd: Anne Bernstein, Michael Bederman & Allison Rose Carter

Cast: Rory Culkin, Robert Sheehan, Mary Beth Peil & Elizabeth Peña

DOP: Eric Lin

Music: Ethan Gold

Country: USA

Runtime: 1h 40 min

The Song of Sway Lake is now available via multiple digital platforms.

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