Lake of Death
by George Wolf
If your experience with Norwegian horror has you expecting Lake of Death to bring on the blondes and the folklore – you’re halfway there. The coifs check out, but writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm trades some homeland roots for flashes of decidedly American inspiration.
It’s a bit curious, since Robsahm (Amnesia) is updating the 1942 novel (and 1958 film) De dødes tjern– which is credited with kickstarting Norway’s interest in the horror genre. Clearly, a cabin in the woods can be creepy in any language.
A distracted Lillian (Iben Akerlie) brings a group of friends and one dog to a remote lakeside cabin for one more getaway before the place is sold. Her gang is ready for a good time, but Lillian is still haunted by the memory of her twin brother Bjorn, who disappeared one year earlier after taking a walk in these very same woods!
One of Lillian’s friends hosts a paranormal podcast, which is Robsahm’s device for filling everyone in on the local legend of the lake. You can get lost in its serene beauty, they say, lose touch with reality, and maybe even get the urge to kill.
Mysterious happenings, paranoia and suspicion ensue, but Robsahm sets the brew on a very slow boil, taking a full hour before we get one well developed visual fright. Lillian’s sleepwalking, hallucinations, and frequent nightmares lay down an overly familiar framework that’s peppered with music stabs and repeated name-dropping of horror classics from Evil Dead to Misery.
As an attempt to bridge generational horror, it’s all very commendable but little more than workmanlike. Robsahm has better success with her commitment to the lake’s spellbinding beauty, and with her repeated trust in cinematographer Axel Mustad.
Shooting in wonderfully earthy 35mm, Mustad creates a gorgeous tableau of woods and water, evoking the dreamy atmosphere required to cash the check written by the lake’s urban legend.
There may be little that surprises you in Lake of Death, but a sterling partnership between director and cameraman makes sure you have a fine souvenir from the visit.