Directed by: Dom Lenoir
Starring: Matt Hookings, Justin McDonald, Michael McKell, Alan Ford, Hannah Waddingham, Ian Pirie, Olwen Catherine Kelly
Indie Film Review by: Jack Gibbs
Winter Ridge centres on detective Ryan Barnes (Matt Hookings), a once idealistic upholder of the law now eking his way through an oppressively numb existence after a fateful car accident threw his wife into a coma, with only his colleagues Tom Harris (Justin McDonald) and John Faulkner (Michael McKell) providing the motivation and moral support he needs to go on – atop doses of medication.
Focusing on his duties as best as he is able, Barnes is called to the site of a sudden and suspicious death. At first, it merely seems coincidental, but as shady doings become unveiled, as the body count starts mounting, and as the man responsible for his wife’s state appears to become increasingly involved, the situation swiftly turns dark as what looks to be a simple hunt for an inveterate killer is gradually revealed to be something far more sinister.
Despite how intriguing all of that sounds on a surface level, however, Winter Ridge unfortunately has almost nothing to offer that hasn’t already been featured in this particular genre of film. You have your grizzled veterans, your red herrings, your shady set-ups, your characters who act too calm and composed or too pleasant for their own good and a through-line that can be guessed at almost every beat, and although the film makes an honest effort at trying to provide a rationale for the eventual antagonist that does stray from the established norm, the resolution comes across as ham-fisted, excessively symbolic and even rather silly. It does, however, offer up a kernel of uniqueness – that is, in its focus on both the nature of coping with creeping dementia and how its sufferers experience it, and the matter of coping with loss and moving into the future. To Winter Ridge’s credit, these subjects have not been too well-explored within the field of crime dramas, I feel, and for that, at least, it is to be commended.
The earnest nature of the performances on display, on top of a light smattering of decent cinematography courtesy of some sweeping vistas and rolling plains that conjure up an image of solitude and desolation, are just about the only other thing keeping Winter Ridge from falling under the average benchmark that it sets. Matt Rookings plays Barnes with genuine conviction, providing audiences with a compelling if short-lived portrait of a man equally devoted to his duty and struggling with his personal demons. Alan Ford, though sadly not quite playing a role like his iconic turn at Brick Top in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, shines in his brief scenes as Dale Jacobs, a painter and family friend of Ryan’s who is struggling with his dementia and, consequently, debating whether or not his life is truly worth living. Ian Pirie also delivers a remarkable performance as Mike Evans, a troubled man propelled onward by a resolute desire to protect his daughter, as his past wrongdoings prove to be a point of conflict between Ryan and himself. The rest of the cast, however, are hit and miss, plain at best and outright forgettable at worst, and a few noteworthy characters cannot save a film from mediocrity.
It may well provide a passable amount of suspense and thrills for its incredibly fleeting running time, and it is a film that tries to carve out its own niche in a genre where so many of the old paths have been well-trod, as small as that particular niche might be. Respectable technical prowess, decent performances and a handful of eye-catching shots, however, cannot save the overall plainness of the narrative, nor can they remedy a script almost entirely lacking in meaningful substance or stand-out moments. It is worth a viewing on its own, but it is far from as chilling as the name may suggest.