The Thompson family is an unhappy, selfish lot. They live a well off life - parents Tom and Sophie live in a big house in the forest, with a heated pool, while their daughters Jess and Katie live hipster party lives in an enormous London apartment - but they’re essentially unsatisfied with everything around them. Into their lives stumbles Blake, a disheveled crazy man who they strangely embrace into their home, and then when he dies at their dinner table they bury him in the woods.
That’s not a spoiler - it’s the first bit of information given in Black Pond. The film’s structure hops around, and we know the end of the story right from the beginning (on top of that the film is based on a true story that is famous in the UK). Unfortunately this structure doesn’t really add much of anything to the film, so at the end we know pretty much what we knew at the beginning, just with a couple more jokes. Nothing is learned, no insight is gained. Stasis is acheived.
The best parts of the film are the funny parts, but often those feel like they’re coming from a totally different movie. Comedian Simon Amstell is hilarious as a cruelly confrontational therapist, but while all of his scenes are highlights they are popping in from another movie altogether. Another movie I kind of wish I had watched.
First time directors Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe (who also stars in the film as an unfathomably pathetic character) have crafted a nice looking film, and their script is often funny. But they are trying to balance some weird tones and they can’t do it. The film’s comedic parts are dark and witty, but then Black Pond veers into oddly serious, arty material that lands like a thud. And then at the end of the movie we’re supposed to... I don’t even know. The movie ends on a note that indicates maybe these people learned something, but I’m not quite sure what that would be, or how they learned it. And if they didn’t learn anything (which I really think they didn’t), the structure of the film even robs the storytelling of any momentum.
I didn’t really like Black Pond, but it’s well made. Kingsley and Sharpe have an eye, and some of the film really works. Like too many other films at this year’s SXSW, Black Pond feels like a movie letting me know to keep an eye on these guys instead of a movie that actually works on any level by itself.