James Jay Edwards reviews Lake of Death, a Norwegian horror film written and directed by Nini Bull Robsahm, now streaming on Shudder.
One of the institutions that has been hit hardest by the American Coronavirus crisis is the movie theater. Sure, drive-ins are making a comeback, but good old-fashioned indoor darkened theaters are all boarded up, leaving cinephiles to fend for themselves when searching out new movies to consume. Horror fans have a friend in AMC Network’s Shudder service, though. Shudder has been bringing fresh and original content to subscribers the whole time. And their newest offering is a creepy little thriller from Norway called De dødes tjern, or Lake of Death.
Lake of Death is about a girl named Lillian (Iben Akerlie) who reluctantly travels to a lake house owned by her family for a getaway with a group of her friends. The lake house holds bad memories for Lillian, as her brother disappeared from the property years before. The lake itself is said to be cursed as well, with a legend about a jilted lover and a suicide pact making the rounds. And, of course, as the gang settles in for their weekend in the woods, they suddenly have the suspicion that they are not alone at their isolated vacation spot.
(Lake of Death, theatrical release poster, Shudder)
Writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm took inspiration for Lake of Death from a semi-famous Norwegian horror movie from 1958 called Lake of the Dead which was based on the 1942 mystery novel De dødes tjern by André Bjerke. Robsahm pays tribute to an important moment in Norwegian film history with her movie, but also manages to wear other influences on her sleeve, visually quoting everything from the Friday the 13th and Creepshow franchises to The Evil Dead and The Shining. Even Jaws gets a little nod and wink. Robsahm has done her horror homework with Lake of Death, leaving a lot for her viewers to unpack and appreciate.
Lake of Death has all the trappings of a typical cabin-in-the-woods horror flick, but it’s not just a mishmash of tropes. Despite its debt paid to its cinematic predecessors, Lake of Death is an original movie. It’s both a loving homage to history and something entirely its own. The elements of the movie come together in a way that, while not always organic, is pretty damn entertaining. It’s heavy on the spoken exposition, but the tales need to be told, and surprisingly, because of the campfire-esque setting of the movie, it all unfolds fairly naturally.
(Lake of Death, Shudder)
Lake of Death is one of those movies that thrives on atmosphere. The calm, serene beauty of the lake by day gives way to fog-drenched visions of terror by night. The movie is also refreshingly light on jump scares, preferring to make its point with skin crawling creep-out moments, all the while injecting just enough paranoia and suspense into the mix to keep things from feeling exploitative. It’s a horror movie through-and-through, but it’s also an art film. Or, at least, it does a decent impression of one. High art most likely wasn’t Nini Bull Robsahm’s initial vision, but she comes shockingly close to pulling it off.
Nini Bull Robsahm isn’t reinventing the wheel with Lake of Death, but she doesn’t need to. While it’s not as memorable of a movie as the classics that it lovingly imitates, it’s also not as forgettable as most of the horror movies of today. Of course, Lake of Death would be better experienced in a theater. Maybe someday.
Until then, Lake of Death is streaming on Shudder.