Frozen in time. If there’s any phrase that comes to mind when thinking of this film, it is that. Frozen in time. From its first scene, The Song of Sway Lake hypnotizes its audience, and doesn’t let up until the credits. It’s no wonder why it has been selected for the Oaxaca Film Festival, and quite frankly, I’ll be stunned if it doesn’t win. This artistic film finds the perfect balance of timeless and modern, eerie and beautiful, jovial and somber. Described as both a coming of age film as well as a romantic drama, there is something about this story that appeals to everyone. And it’s that rare trait that makes The Song of Sway Lake so mesmerizing.
The film is written by Elizabeth Bull and Ari Gold, directed by the latter. Music collector Ollie, played by Rory Culkin (Signs, Scream 4), plans to rob his wealthy grandmother of a rare and valuable 78 record, but it isn’t at all how it sounds. Ollie wants, almost needs the record, in order to maintain a solid connection to his recently deceased father. He enlists the help of his only friend, a Russian drifter Nikolai, played by Robert Sheehan (Misfits, The Umbrella Academy). But the adventurous heist quickly goes south when Ollie’s grandmother, Charlotte “Charlie” Sway, played by Mary Beth Peil (Dawson’s Creek, The Good Wife) arrives at the estate. And no one, not even Charlie, can quite anticipate the events to come.
There is something almost overwhelmingly sinister about Sway Lake. Within the first few shots, the sense of impending doom is subtly marked, but along with it there’s an undeniable beauty. You can’t help but be drawn to it. There’s a very appealing timelessness about the setting, and the nearly iridescent shots only makes it more enchanting. It is the film’s ability to bring two very different eras together in an unexpected way that makes it so entrancing. The audience can’t look away because it’s truly quite unlike anything else.
The number of characters in this film are limited, but what Sway Lake lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. In fact, the small and intimate cast adds rather than takes away from the film. Culkin was the absolute perfect choice for Ollie. He has a very real sense of grief with him. He’s able to portray this person that is containing and hiding something deep within himself. But in the same breath, though he’s quiet, he’s unashamed of who he is. Director Ari Gold says it best.
“For the character of Ollie, we needed an actor who carried the shock of recent loss on his face, and found it in the immensely sensitive Rory Culkin.”
And of course, there’s Robert Sheehan, a personal favourite of mine. I’ve loved him since his Misfits days. Sheehan has this fantastic range, not only as an actor but within each character that he embodies. He brings an element of reality and relatability, but also this unique, off-the-wall wackiness. This combination allows you to be endeared to him, or at least understand him to a point, but there’s something that can be quite uncomfortable about it. It’s exactly why Sheehan was perfect to play Nikolai. There’s an undeniable charm to him, a swagger, but also something that warns you not to get too close. Sheehan balances this beautifully.
I wish I had criticism. But from the gorgeous cinematography to the hauntingly beautiful music, the incredible cast to the story itself, there wasn’t a moment of this film that I could tear my eyes away from. It was almost dream-like. Culkin and Sheehan are a deadly combination, and Peil is simply stunning. Elizabeth Pena quietly stole countless scenes, her mere presence on screen offered comfort amidst the unsettling. The Song of Sway Lake is truly a work of art, and unquestionably a must-see. Definitely add this to your list.