The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - LAKE OF DEATH | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - LAKE OF DEATH

lake of death review
A young woman returns with a group of friends to the lakeside cabin where her brother disappeared a year prior.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nini Bull Robsahm

Starring: Iben Akerlie, Jacob Andersen Schøyen, Jonathan Harboe, Sophia Lie, Elias Munk

lake of death poster

If you're the protagonist of a movie, staying in a remote cabin is never a good idea. If that cabin happens to be on the edge of a lake, well, you're in double trouble. In movies like Queen of EarthLeave Her to Heaven, The Deep End and Martha Marcy May Marlene, bad luck befalls those who find themselves in the otherwise tranquil environs of a lake, while in Evil Dead and the hundreds of low budget horror movies it spawned, a getaway at a cabin in the woods proves far from relaxing.

lake of death review

As far back as 1958, Norwegian director Kåre Bergstrøm combined both these tropes in his moody adaptation of Andre Bjerke’s 1942 novel Lake of the Dead. Bergstrøm's film concerns a young woman who, along with a group of her friends, takes a trip to visit her brother at the remote cabin they inherited from their parents. Once there, she finds him missing, and when a series of strange incidents occurs, the group begins to believe they may be falling victim to an old legend that claims anyone who stays in the cabin will be possessed by the spirit of a man who murdered his sister and her lover before drowning himself in the nearby lake.

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For her remake, writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm keeps the central premise but makes key changes to the narrative. The forty-something professional protagonists of the '58 film are replaced  by a more photogenic collection of blandsome millennials. Bergstrøm's protagonists where a group of refined intellectuals (think the scientists of John Carpenter's The Thing), whereas the uninteresting bunch here are the archetypal party animals who regularly populate second-rate slasher movies.

lake of death review

Save, that is, for Lillian (Iben Akerlie), whose brother Bjørn (Patrick Walshe McBridedisappeared a full year prior to the events here. Where Lillian was merely one member of the group in the '58 film, Robsahm puts her front and centre, occupying the sort of role we now know as that of a "Final Girl". While her friends get drunk and enjoy the scenery, Lillian is plagued by visions of her brother, and finds herself taking walks in her sleep. As strange occurrences mount up - like a breakfast being prepared by an unknown party and Lillian's pet dog found tied up in a barn - the friends begin to point the finger at one another as they believe someone among them is out to drive Lillian insane.

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Lake of the Dead holds a special place in the hearts of Scandinavian horror fans, and it's clearly held in high regard within the Norwegian film industry, as this remake has been coated in a veneer of gloss you don't usually find in provincial European horror fare. Unlike the many shot on video quickies that employ similar scenarios, Lake of Death is handsomely shot by cinematographer Axel Mustad on 35mm film. A pair of Hollywood heavyweights have been brought in to add some glamour in postproduction in the form of editor Bob Murawski (best known for his work with Sam Raimi and for assembling Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind) and composer John Debney (Hocus Pocus, The Passion of the Christ, Sin City). But all that glitters is not gold, and while Murawski does a good job of trying to time scares from the uninspiring material he's working with, Debney's score is the definition of generic. I'm not sure I want my provincial European horror movies to look and sound like Hollywood movies, certainly not the bland mainstream horrors Lake of Death resembles.

lake of death review

Robsahm's remake is clearly aiming for an audience outside Norway, as it has bled out the distinctive Scandinavian atmosphere of its black and white predecessor. Aside from an extra layer of professionalism, there's little to distinguish Lake of Death from the dozens of cheap American cabin in the woods horror movies that clog the VOD drain every year. The set-pieces follow the de rigueur pattern of a character walking around a dimly lit house or some other shadowy locale before being interrupted by a telegraphed jump scare. The legend at the centre of the '58 film is relegated to an anecdote we hear early on, but which serves no real purpose to the central narrative. The main deviation from the source material comes in a climax that makes the incestual subtext of the original all too explicit here, and the film veers into the unpleasant territory of demonising the mentally ill. Even if you haven't seen Bergstrøm's '58 version, Lake of Death will feel all too familiar, and it doesn't help that its characters constantly compare their predicament to the variety of superior '80s horror movies it's clearly more interested in aping than the '50s film it's actually remaking.

Lake of Death is on Shudder from July 16th.

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