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Review: Rudderless “Lake of Death” Chokes On Its Horror Influences

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 | Review

Starring Patrick Walshe McBride, Ulric von der Esch, Iben Akerlie
Directed by Nini Bull Robsahm
Written by Nini Bull Robsahm

As tempting as it can be to reference beloved movies, writer/directors do so at their peril, as the involuntary comparison that occurs in the viewer’s mind can hinder the enjoyment of the film at hand. Just released Shudder Original, LAKE OF DEATH is one such example: a supernatural kind-of-sort-of slasher hailing from Norway that spreads itself thin in its attempts to nod to each and every one of its genre influences without charting territory of its own.

Following the mysterious disappearance of her twin brother, the reserved Lillian (Iben Akerlie) escapes to the family cabin for a weekend getaway with a group of friends. Upon arrival, the young people hear tell of a terrifying local fable about the nearby lake and its effect on those entranced by it. As strange happenings begin to plague the group, Lillian starts sleepwalking and seeing frightening visions. Is she losing her mind, or is there more to the tale of the lake than meets the eye?

LAKE OF DEATH draws inspiration from Kåre Bergstrøm’s 1958 film, Lake of the Dead. Relatively unknown abroad, it’s nevertheless one of Norway’s fright cinema cornerstones. This background helps illustrate what’s so annoyingly hollow at LAKE OF DEATH’s center. Though it lifts the 1958 film’s plot almost exactly, there’s little cultural specificity in this updating of one of the country’s most notable horror efforts, or much time dedicated to building upon its ideas for a modern audience. Writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm instead expends her energy entirely on references to classics of American horror, some of which are clumsy, and some of which are…slightly less clumsy. All, however, feel out of step with the rather restrained tone of the film. The idea, no doubt, was to restage Lake of the Dead with a cast of fright flick literate twenty-somethings a la Scream, but the chillingly idyllic setting and understated sense of mental decay at the film’s center stifle whatever humor Robsahm was aiming for.

Though its cast is likable and Axel Mustad’s photography is sleek and evocative, LAKE OF DEATH lets its few intriguing thematic bits sink like stones. Robsahm touches on troubled familial ties, mental illness, and Norwegian folklore, but seems less interested in exploring them further than reminding us that, yes, the Evil Dead movies also featured iconic basements, and making her cast do half-hearted Freddy Krueger impressions. Most frustratingly, Robsahm, in her fervor to hit upon as many well-worn tropes as possible, can’t decide whether her film is a postmodern remake, a camp slasher, a supernatural yarn, a psychological chiller, or a possession story, so she tosses a bit of everything in, making LAKE OF DEATH feel especially rudderless.

LAKE OF DEATH never reaches a worthwhile destination and can’t quite decide just what it wants to be. Though based on a well-regarded Norwegian horror classic, it fails to update its formula in any satisfying way. Though it name-checks its American genre influences frequently and proudly, its failure to build upon these familiar, and often at-odds, tropes in a fresh or interesting fashion leaves LAKE OF DEATH dead in the water.

LAKE OF DEATH is streaming now on Shudder


Rocco Thompson
Rue Morgue's Online Managing Editor, Rocco is a Rondo-nominated writer and avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous.