Michaela Kurimsky in The Boathouse (2021)
A remote summer cottage becomes the stuff of waking nightmares in Hannah Cheesman’s twisty drama The Boathouse. In this nightmare, a family’s dark history is awakened from slumber by suspicion. When music graduate student Anne (Michaela Kurimsky) takes a job as nanny to two children, she falls in love with the children’s father and becomes entangled in the disappearance of their estranged mother Natalia (Kelly Martin). As the summer progresses, Anne’s own history with Natalia resurfaces, and she begins to suspect that the family are hiding a dark secret. Who do you trust when you can’t trust yourself? The Boathouse exhausts the trope of using an unreliable protagonist to keep the viewer questioning what is true. Anne often struggles with sleep paralysis and sleepwalking. Fear and dread wash over her. She begins to hallucinate Natalia’s presence throughout the cottage. These scenes create a bit of tension in the air and establish a disheveled tone well. But the film goes for the most obvious directions to introduce a twist and wrap up the story. The Boathouse sadly loses its eerie, steady build and becomes an exaggerated mess.
Crucial to keeping the film together is Michaela Kurimsky’s performance as Anne. While her character is let down by a shoddily written screenplay, Kurimsky runs the gamut from inquisitiveness and anxiety to confidence and despair. Anne arrives at the summer cottage with a strong suspicion that something is wrong. The film starts promisingly enough to ignite interest, peeling back the layers of why Anne took the nanny job and the nature of her musical relationship with Natalia. The connection between the two characters makes for a potentially interesting story, yet the film avoids every opportunity to explore this in further depth. Their relationship is defined by moody imagery and a speckle of mysterious flashbacks, which doesn’t build a strong foundation to feel emotionally involved in how their relationship is revealed over time. Rather than explore the power dynamics between both characters, the film gets lost in a sea of exhausting tropes. One of which utilizes mental illness as a way of stressing that its protagonist cannot be trusted and/or shouldn’t be.
While Kurimsky fares well despite the messy plot development, the same cannot be said for her co-stars. It doesn’t help that Natalia’s husband Dominic (Alan Van Sprang) is an insanely underwritten character, but Sprang delivers in the most unsubtle of ways. The rest of the cast overact to distracting degrees. Though nothing is quite as disconcerting as the film’s soundtrack. Any intrigue scenes manage to conjure up is completely overpowered whenever accompanied by the high-strung, chaotic score. Beyond the elements that simply don’t work, what’s most disappointing about The Boathouse is its over reliance on outside influences. Echoes of Hitchcock’s Rebecca haunt the walls of the summer cottage. The film does a decent job creating an atmospheric environment, but struggles to carve out its own path. Instead, conveniently placed plot points and obvious choices of direction spell out where the story is going. Before The Boathouse has a chance to elaborate on an intriguing premise, a cliched screenplay takes the wind out of its sails. Thankfully the story has a strong anchor in Michaela Kurimsky, who is quickly made evident the prime reason to see this film for one’s self.
The Boathouse is now available on VOD/Digital platforms.