July 15, 2020 Lake of Death (Movie Review)
A cabin on a picturesque lake, five friends, murderous folklore, and nightmarish visions bathed in black blood. What could possibly go wrong? Join us for a not so relaxing holiday at Lake of Death, a new Shudder Original that begins streaming on Thursday, July 16, 2020, and, yes, it will also be available on Shudder Canada and Shudder UK.
Directed by Nini Bull Robsahm (Hjelp, vi er i filmbransjen 2011, Amnesia 2014), the 92-minute film stars Iben Akerlie (Victoria 2013, Mortal 2020), Patrick Walshe McBride (Inspector Lewis series, Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators series), Ulric von der Esch (Beck series, The Durrells in Corfu series), Elias Munk (Historien om Danmark series, The Sommerdahl Murders series), Jonathan Harboe (Darkland 2017, Surrogate series), Jakob Schøyen Andersen (Olsenbanden Junior går under vann 2003, Hit for hit series), and, certainly not least, Sophia Lie.
The set up is fairly simple: a year after her twin brother Bjørn (McBride) mysteriously disappears, Lillian (Akerlie) returns to their old family cabin to say her farewells before the property is sold. Upon arrival she’s met by the soft-spoken Kai (von der Esch), who tries to provide a warm welcome to his former flame and her friends Gabriel (Harboe), cozy couple Sonja (Lie) and Harald (Munk), as well as paranormal enthusiast/podcaster, Bernhard (Andersen).
Almost as soon as they arrive at the reportedly bottomless lake, eerie and gruesome events begin to occur. Soon the lines between reality and Lillian’s nightmares blur, and she must fight both an external and internal battle to stay alive. Has a horrific local legend become reality or is a very real enemy hiding in plain sight?
Originally titled De dødes tjern, the screenplay written by Director Robsahm takes inspiration from the popular 1942 Norwegian novel of the same name by André Bjerke. It’s worth noting that this originally inspired a 1958 film adaptation, and together the pair are credited with sparking Norway’s interest in the Horror genre. Which is understandable, as the tale is laden with enough eerie happenings to inspire a fearful tickle to ghost down the spine as it delivers all the benchmarks of a haunting.
Robsahm’s offering, which is presented in Norwegian with English subtitles, weaves a lush story that is shot on 35mm and fraught with gorgeous cinematography from Axel Mustad (Lost Picture Found short 2008, Amnesia 2014). As with many Scandinavian films, Lake of Death emphasizes the grandeur of the natural landscape, with a particular emphasis on its titular lake and the dense woods surrounding it. Certainly the outcome of the visuals is only aided by the fact that Robsahm brought in Academy Award winner Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker 2008, Drag Me to Hell 2009) to edit the film.
All of these elements make for a rich experience, one that elevates its story to the next level with its sophisticated approach to visual storytelling. No less should be said about its carefully composed score by John Debney (The Jungle Book 2016, The Greatest Showman 2017), which shifts what we as Americans expect in a Horror flick and plunges some of the creepiest on-screen moments into an oubliette of silence. Like this, each individual noise—the creak of a floorboard, the buzzing inside a character’s mind—is given enough emphasis to make the viewer’s heart rate run the Kentucky Derby. When the characters are not facing the unknown, well, there’s a grandeur to the music that provides their soundtrack. (Along with a fun use of some classic Blue Öyster Cult.)
All of these elements help to set the stage for the cast to succeed. The central figure here is clearly Akerlie’s Lillian, who is the most well-rounded character of the lot. This gives the talented actress a wealth of material to draw from, and she carefully pirouettes along the boundaries of sanity throughout much of the film. Haunted by the past and the loss of her twin, mired in guilt and still experiencing a pinch of longing for her old flame, Lillian is conflicted at every turn and sleepwalking as a result. As she is such a complex young woman, it’s a testament to Akerlie that the actress brings the character to life with such a wealth of delicacy and grace that one underwater scene becomes a beautifully-choreographed and sensual ballet.
Of her co-stars, von der Esch (Kai), Gabriel (Harboe), Lie (Sonja) and Munk (Harald) are largely filler provided as a support system (and body count). Though their characters are largely flat tropes—Harald the hothead, Bernhard the instigator, Kai and Gabriel two very different takes on the hopeful ex-love interest—it should be noted that Lie, especially, gives a phenomenal performance considering this is her acting debut. A natural, she depicts both the loving girlfriend and the compassionate best friend with an ease that suggests years spent in front of the screen. Her male cohorts too have an ease about them, falling into their assorted roles with a believability that makes their performances enjoyable, if not as three-dimensional as the centerpiece, Akerlie’s Lillian. Although, when McBride (Bjørn) is given a chance to shine, he does so with a sullen aura that speaks volumes though he never utters a word.
What does it all amount to? Well, by today’s standards, Lake of Death is certainly not the first flick to fuse mystery and the paranormal, and watch as they infiltrate a cabin in the woods with a Stygian ooze. However, Robsahm’s screenplay is self-aware enough to literally mention some of its American forebears, while holding onto the unique qualities of its original Norwegian inspiration. This results in an especial blending of worlds, elevating what might have been a mass market Horror offering and delivering its viewers a gratifying time spent at the lake.
Don’t let its B-movie title mislead you: there’s not enough gore and naked flesh on display here to give you a (cabin) fever. Still an awesome addition to Shudder’s line-up, Cryptic Rock gives Lake of Death 4.5 of 5 stars.