Every horror movie cliché in the book is unimaginatively trotted out in Lake of Death, a ponderingly straight-faced Norwegian production making its North American debut on Shudder.
Nevertheless, Lake of Death does come armed with some cachet. Known in its native language as De dødes tjern, it’s an adaptation of a 1942 novel by Norwegian author André Bjerke which was made into a prior film in 1958, both of which are nationally celebrated works (although pretty much impossible to find outside of their home country) generally credited with kicking off Norway’s appetite for horror entertainment. Unfortunately, despite some gorgeous natural scenery and elegant production values, this legacy is buried under a barrage of third-rate Blumhouse-level scare tactics.
The premise itself is intriguing enough. A year after her twin brother’s mysterious death, orphaned Lillian (Iben Akerlie) and a group of her twenty-something friends travel back to the remote family cottage where it happened. As if things weren’t uneasy enough, legend has it that the neighbouring lake has a dangerous psychological pull, causing a former resident of the area to become obsessed, eventually killing his wife and drowning himself in the apparently bottomless body of water. Sounds like everyone’s in for a relaxing summer getaway!
Or not. Obviously, it doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out where this is all headed, resulting in the audience being ten steps ahead of the story at all times, even as the movie desperately tries to confuse us as to whether something supernatural is actually going on or whether something more tangible is at play. As the contrived red herrings continue to pile up, the whole endeavour approaches self-parody, resulting in a final series or twists and revelations that seemed painfully obvious from the start.
Still, the stage could have been set for spooky good times but writer-director Nini Bull Robsahm apes the motions of a horror movie without seeming to understand how to actually scare the viewers. Consequently, we’re treated to scene after scene of a character slowly walking around in the dark to investigate a disturbance before an eventual boo-scare of another character illogically stepping into the frame accompanied by a loud orchestral sound.
Lake of Death’s only semi-successful point of dread lies in the somewhat creepy hallucinations that our heroine continues to experience throughout. But since Lillian is annoyingly over-traumatized, barely able to communicate with anybody beyond her constant look of wide-eyed horror, it makes her impossible to invest in as a character. Meanwhile, her friends are all comprised of the usual group of blandly attractive idiots that typically populate these kinds of movies, all smugly cavorting around spouting first-draft ready dialogue while waiting on their dance with the devil.
To break the humourless monotony, Robsahm insists on ironic horror movie references throughout, in an attempt to give the film that hip, up-to-the-moment touch, as if that hadn’t already been played out 20+ years ago in the aftermath of Scream. It translates less as meta self-awareness than artistic laziness, having her characters quote Freddy Krueger or remark that a basement hatch in the floor looks exactly like the one in Evil Dead but then also having them behave as if they’ve never seen any of these films when they consistently respond stupidly to each new terror scenario.
As one of Lake of Death‘s characters might say, it all makes one long for the simple stalk-and-slash pleasures of a Friday the 13th flick.
- Release Date: 7/16/2020