Pro tip: When you’re at a creepy cabin and someone discovers it has an even creepier basement as they say “Like ‘Evil Dead’,” don’t go in that basement. Norwegian horror film “Lake of Death,” a loose remake of a film that’s credited with starting the horror genre in the country back in 1958, is keenly aware of its lineage. In the first few scenes, it references not only the Sam Raimi classic but “Misery” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and there’s no way that the title “Cabin in the Woods” didn’t come up at some point during production. In fact, one of its biggest selling points is its tie to horror history as it boasts solid editing work by Bob Murawski, who cut together “Army of Darkness” and “Drag Me to Hell,” among many others. He knows how to assemble an effective horror film. And, using the richness of 35mm film, cinematographer Axel Mustad knows how to shoot one. Sadly, no one involved remembered to write one. “Lake of Death” is a slow burn that fizzles out under the weight of its influences. The tech elements are significantly better than average B-movie fare, but the writing never matches them.
A year ago, Lillian (Iben Akerlie, often bearing a striking resemblance to a young Jennifer Lawrence) lost her twin brother Bjorn (Patrick Walshe McBride) and she returns to the lake at which he disappeared with four friends—Harald (Elias Munk), Gabriel (Jonathan Harboe), Sonja (Sophia Lie), and Bernhard (Jacob Schoyen Andersen). Bernhard is doing a podcast about the urban legends around the lake, including the story of a man who murdered his family before committing suicide in the body of water. But, for the most part, everyone just seems to be there to investigate the creepiness in the cabin near the lake, one with the aforementioned basement that literally contains a creepy dollhouse and a clearly haunted diary. With only minor tweaks, some of “Lake of Death” could play as parody a la “Cabin in the Woods.”
The first hour of the film is meant as atmospheric tension building but writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm never gives us stakes or character to care about. As I mentioned, it starts to feel almost like a comedy, such as when Gabriel wakes up with the word “Dead” literally written on his forehead, and then everyone brushes it off like it’s no big deal. Lillian is the most haunted of the bunch, seeing black ooze coming out of faucets and sleepwalking at night, and her arc remains relatively interesting because Akerlie sells the urgency of it. Everyone else looks like they meandered on set one day and were told to act scared and goofy. It’s a tonal mess at times, and it’s almost impressive how much Akerlie stresses to hold it together and keep audiences engaged.
Sadly, the pacing in the first hour never really catches fire in the final act, even as “Lake of Death” gets more intense and surreal. It’s a film that I really wanted to go off the rails. You can’t tease us with jump scares and bad dreams for an hour and then not pay off with the good stuff, especially when your movie is called “Lake of Death.” It’s not like we signed up to watch “Lake of Kinda Creepy Jump Scenes”.