Review by Sean Boelman
Old-school horror adaptations are notoriously difficult to crack (see this year’s The Turning for an example of one gone terribly wrong), Norwegian filmmaker Nini Bull Robsahm has brought a surprisingly solid offering to the table with Lake of Death. Creepy and atmospheric, if never scary, Robsahm’s film is a fun and nostalgic forest-bound horror flick.
Inspired by the 1950s horror novel De dødes tjern by Bernhard Borge, the film follows a group of friends that travel to a remote cabin where one of them had experienced a traumatic event one year prior, only for strange occurrences to plague their vacation. It’s a classic set-up that has been done over-and-over again, but the nostalgia that fans will feel for the genre will be the main driving force here.
Part of what makes this film so effective is that it builds tension in a very natural way to an over-the-top but undeniably entertaining climax. While there are some portions of the movie that are frankly ridiculous, it’s easy to forgive some of the mistakes because Robashm’s love for the genre and source material is so earnest.
Unlike most recent entries in the genre, the film doesn’t make cheap attempts at jump scares. Instead, Borge is interested in building an immersive atmosphere to draw the viewer into this world. The use of folklore as a story element proves particularly helpful in this regard, complementing the mystery of the narrative quite well.
Robsahm’s visual style also goes a long way in making the movie more effective. The use of light stands out in particular, especially in one scene that uses a matchbox to provide one of the single best scares. And even though it basically screams “generic creepy cabin”, the production design is used well within the context of the film.
Admittedly, one of the weaker aspects of the movie is its character development. Unfortunately, the characters largely fail to defy their traditional archetypes, making it hard to care much about them. Even the relationship dynamics that are meant to provide additional characterization feel insufficient.
Regardless, the cast is able to bring a great deal of charm to their roles, and this keeps the film from drowning. As the lead, Iben Akerlie captures a lot of the qualities characteristic of the classic performances of the genre, feeling approachable but compelling. Elias Munk is also a standout as the comedic relief of the bunch.
Lake of Death is an entertaining little horror movie that will surely delight fans. Even though it doesn’t do much (or anything, really) in terms of innovating a well-worn genre, it delivers satisfying, old-school chills.
Lake of Death streams on Shudder beginning July 16.