A group of horny teens trek into the deep, dark woods, camping gear in tow. As night descends it’s almost a given that something terrible will befall them. The woods are home to monsters and killers, after all. This is the set-up of innumerable horror films, and at first Lake Bodom seems as if it’s going to join their ranks. This can make for underwhelming viewing, although director Taneli Mustonen and cinematographer Daniel Lindholm bless their film with an ethereal beauty and soft-focus that most blunt hack-and-slash outings never come close to touching.
But Lake Bodom has a few tricks up its bloody sleeve, and just when you’ve been lulled into accepting what type of film this is going to be it pulls the rug out from beneath you and turns into something completely different. It’s a wonderful surprise, although it knocks the film completely off-kilter and never quite rights itself.
Writer-director Taneli Mustonen cleverly (or perhaps exploitatively?) draws on a real-life incident to set-up Lake Bodom: in 1960, three teenagers were brutally murdered in the woods near Lake Bodom in Finland, and the killer was never caught. It’s the type of incident that gives birth to hundreds of spooky urban legends, and the incident haunts the events of Lake Bodom.
Decades later, in the present day, four teens head out into those same woods. Brooding Elias (Mikael Gabriel) and push-over-pal Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla) bring the quiet Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) and the outgoing Nora (Mimosa Willamo) along on their camping trip, with hopes of some backwoods fun. Mustonen takes his time introducing us to these characters, something the slasher movies Lake Bodom is drawing from rarely bother to do. There’s a particular focus on Ida, who lives in an oppressive household lorded over by her demanding, possibly abusive father.
Once the youths get into the woods and set-up camp the usual perfunctory trappings and flirtations follow, and you might find a touch of restlessness setting in, wondering when the killing is going to start. And then the killing does start, and everything changes. To say more would rob Lake Bodom of its effectiveness, but let’s just say the film ventures down the path less traveled.
Mustonen ratchets up the tension, staging one uneasy set-piece after another with great effect (one scene, involving a character diving into the murky depths of the lake at night, is remarkably creepy). Adding to Lake Bodom’s power is how gorgeous the film looks, with painterly frames galore.
The problem is for all Lake Bodom has going for it, it’s never particularly scary. Mustonen keeps adding twists to keep up the momentum, but it’s not enough to sustain things. And when the last-half of the film devolves into borderline torture-porn territory, you’ll find yourself wishing the film would double-back and course-correct.
These flaws aren’t completely unforgivable, but they keep Lake Bodom from achieving maximum effectiveness. Still, there’s enough originality here, mixed with truly stunning cinematographer, to make Lake Bodom stand out from the pack.
Lake Bodom will be released exclusively on Shudder in May 2017.