One of the nice things about Netflix’s push for original programming is it greenlights and funds a lot of independent movies that otherwise would have trouble finding distribution. Sometimes these movies are misses (Cloverfield Paradox, for example) and other times they’re hits. Shimmer Lake is very much the latter.
The high concept pitch for Shimmer Lake is simple: it tells the story of a small-town bank robbery and the fallout afterwards as the perpetrators cross and double cross each other trying to make off with the money. Where Shimmer Lake distinguishes itself is in how that story is told: in reverse chronological order a day at a time leading back to the night of the initial back robbery.
To any film nerd, this no doubt immediately brings to mind Momento, one of Christopher Nolan’s early films that’s another crime story told in reverse chronological order. But where that movie’s structure is intended to mirror and evoke the short-term memory loss of its main character, in Shimmer Lake the reverse structure is less noticeable. Part of this is that Momento’s backwards jumps take place every few minutes, while Shimmer Lake allows a full day’s events to take place before jumping back to the beginning of the previous day.
While the details of their time jumps differ, Momento and Shimmer Lake both use them to create tension and make the audience an active part of the storytelling. Both movies begin with the death of a character, and the tension is in answering the question of what lead to the death: in Momento we want to know if the main character murdered the right person, while in Shimmer Lake what happened in the bank robbery that set all the events in motion is the overriding mystery.
In tone the two movies are dissimilar: as much as it’s a mystery story, Momento is also an existential exploration of identity and its tone is serious and only occasionally funny. Shimmer Lake by contrast has a constant wry, deadpan sense of humor about itself that nonetheless manages never to puncture the tension that builds as the movie plays out. It’s a delicate balance, but one that Shimmer Lake nails.
The actors in Shimmer Lake are all well cast in their roles. Many are known primarily for their comedic roles (Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally, Rob Corddry) which perhaps explains how easily they’re able to balance the comedy and tension so effectively. The movie as a whole is taut and fun and the twist at the end is both clever and consistent with what’s come before. It’s well worth a watch if you’re having a movie night or just a Netflix in kind of night.