[Movie Review] LAKE OF DEATH

In LAKE OF DEATH, Lillian returns to her old family cabin with a group of friends to say goodbye to the place and to remember her twin brother that died mysteriously the year before. Soon after the friends arrive, strange and frightening events begin to unfold. The lake holds many secrets and has a tragic, twisting history with death – some true, some only known to be legend. Lillian finds that she can’t distinguish where her nightmares end and reality begins and she must battle external forces and her own inner demons as she and her friends struggle to stay alive. Will they survive LAKE OF DEATH, where danger lurks below the placid surface?

The Norwegian horror stars Iben Akerlie, Jacob Andersen, Schøyen, Jonathan Harboe, Sophia Lie, and Elias Munk. Nini Bull Robsahm sits at the helm as director, realizing her version of the story that is credited with bringing the horror genre to Norway. LAKE OF DEATH is based on the popular Norwegian horror story De dødes tjern, which was originally a popular novel published in 1942 and then adapted for film in 1958. Despite the story’s massive popularity in its nation of origin, the novel and 1958 film are less known internationally. Nini Bull Robsahm’s contemporary re-telling is an opportunity to introduce the defining text of Norwegian horror to the world.

Image courtesy of Shudder

In watching LAKE OF DEATH, its origins as a novel are immediately evident. From the opening credits and through every shot, the film has a depth and weight that makes the scope of the film feel impossibly vast. It evokes, simultaneously, the vibe of an ancient fairytale and a campfire ghost story. In short, it carries the weight of a living legend. The presentation of the film stretches as far as the legends of the lake at its center.

An extension of LAKE OF DEATH‘s massive scope is drop-dead gorgeous cinematography. Not surprising, considering that Robsahm brought on Academy Award-winner Bob Murawski, known for horror greats like Army of Darkness and Drag Me to Hell, to edit the piece. Additionally, the decision to shoot LAKE OF DEATH on 35mm film only adds to the notion of LAKE OF DEATH being especially artistic in its expression.

Image courtesy of Shudder

Regrettably, LAKE OF DEATH may be too high art for its own good and leaves the viewer with little more than its devastatingly good looks. The narrative is a bit confusing and its high concept storytelling doesn’t have a clear path for the casual viewer to follow. One gets the impression, that prior knowledge of the source material is required. Further, the performances of the ensemble cast are shallow and don’t leave much to emotionally connect to.

I recommend LAKE OF DEATH with a disclaimer. This is not a traditional horror film that can be casually enjoyed. Judging purely on entertainment value, the film is a slog and the narrative ties itself in knots. That being said, it is a master study in cinematography and beauty captured on film. You’ve been warned.

LAKE OF DEATH premieres on Shudder on July 16, 2020.

Caitlin Kennedy
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