Friday, May 19, 2017

Sleep with One Eye Open at Lake Bodom: A Film Review

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Tagline: "No Happy Campers Here..."

Director: Taneli Mustonen.

Writers: Aleksi Hyvärinen and Taneli Mustonen.

Cast: Mimosa Willamo, Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mikael Gabriel and Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä.

Before Lake Bodom, there has only been one Finnish slasher film ever made. And, outside of 2008's Dark Floors and Tero Molin's Skeleton Crew (2009), there have only been a half dozen Finnish horror films ever created. Now, Lake Bodom can be added to both of these short lists! In the film, an ancient murder is revisited, in which three campers were killed and one person survived. Hmm, this critic has an idea as to who the killer was. But, director Taneli Mustonen and writer Aleksi Hyvärinen have their own ideas as to the killer's identity. And, there are a few twists and turns, to experience, before finding out who that is. Reminiscent of another film, Awakening the Zodiac, a killer is brought back to life, dozens of years later. Lake Bodom is a beautifully shot film. And, this title is one that should be seen.

Lake Bodom's story begins with a trope, but mostly skips typical cliches. You may have heard of this plot scenario, in horror, before. Several friends head out into the woods, for a bit of fun. But, there is something or someone waiting for them, just outside of the campfire's light! Still, Mustonen avoids many of the typical tropes, by introducing a number of different character motivations. Elias (Mikael Gabriel) is out for sex, Nora (Mimosa Willam) is there out of jealousy, Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä) is there to recreate a brutal murder and the protagonist, Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) is here for revenge. Characters are all fleshed out, except for one very aloof serial killer. But, this murderer might be best situated in an old folks' home, at the age of 70 plus.

The writing in Lake Bodom is strong, despite a slow first act. Mustonen and Hyvärinen keep their killer(s)' identities hidden, well. In Lake Bodom, there is a minor and major villain. Though, the protagonist also changes into an antagonist, at certain points. It would be wise if none of the characters turned their backs on any of the other characters. Otherwise, a stabbing is not far off. Still, the writers include enough misdirections to hold the film's tension, by keeping the killers mostly in shadow. This viewer wished for a bit more conflict up front. As it is, the writing will keep most viewers guessing as to the next plot turn, or character reveal.

Lake Bodom is similar to another horror film, Awakening the Zodiac (2017). Both films deal with a killer from the '60s. Fictionally recreated, both films also try to answer a central question or two: who was the killer and what if they were still active today? The answer to the second question is a bit mundane. Both killers would be well into their 70s or 80s and likely in need of a walker. But, it always interesting to explore an ancient legend, fictionally or otherwise, in a sensationalist way. There is at least one difference between these two films, as well. One closes the book on a killer, while the other promises more murder, likely with a wheelchair. It is up to the viewer to decide which ending, open or closed, they like most.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention Daniel Lindholm's gorgeous cinematography. Lake Bodom incorporates a number of difficult shots and scenes. A majority of the mid-portion, of the film, involves night shooting. Shooting at night is always complicated as natural light, even moonlight, is not strong enough to illuminate scenes. How does one light a night shoot? That is a good question. Though, it looks as though a spotlight or two might have been anchored high in the trees. Night shooting is difficult enough. But, Lindholm and director Mustonen take it a step further, by shooting water scenes at night, too. Some of the underwater scenes are the most haunting, while never being too dim. This critic also liked some of the natural photography, which bookended the film. Lindholm utilized the camera to include near static shots of animals or nature, to intro' and outro' the film. Panu Aaltio's score is also softer during these shots, easing the darker tone, of the upcoming or previous portions of the film. Lake Bodom is a beautiful film, thanks to the complicated shooting of Lindholm, Mustonen and others.

Lake Bodom has just released, exclusively, on Shudder. Available in Canada and the United States through subscription, this is the first Finnish horror film, for this viewer; hopefully, there will be many more. A must-see for fans of foreign horror, Lake Bodom stands out for its complex writing. While a bit slow through the opening act, the film's climax makes up for any initial lack of conflict. As well, the diverse character motivations requires that viewers stay on their toes and watch closely. You never know who has it out for who and for what reason. Lake Bodom rehashes an ancient unsolved murder case, similar to Jonathan Wright's Awakening the Zodiac, in a fictionalized way. And, the results are both horrifying and often surprising.

Overall: 7 out of 10.

A trailer for Lake Bodom on 28DLA: A Lake Bodom Trailer

More Finnish horror (Dark Floors, 2008):

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