When four attractive teenagers go camping in the woods on the exact spot where four attractive teenagers were brutally murdered forty years ago, what the hell do they expect to happen? Lake Bodom, by Taneili Mustonon, shows us that the answer is… well, pretty much what you’d expect.
Setting it apart from the pack is that this backstory is ripped from reality. The Lake Bodom murders are one of Finland’s great unsolved mysteries: four teenagers sleeping soundly in their tents really were brutally murdered in 1960.
The killer introduced himself to his victims by plunging a knife through their canvas tent. Two hours later, three of the teenagers were mutilated beyond recognition and the sole survivor was staggering away with a concussion, a broken jaw and facial fractures. In a creepy detail the survivor reported glowing red eyes pursuing him as he ran through the dark forest. The killer promptly vanished, however, and he/she/it was never caught…
You’ve got to admit that it’s a pretty great setup for a horror movie. So great that it’s been already been used in 2014’s Bodom, a broadly effective found footage movie out of Hungary (and is also the inspiration for the name of death metal titans Children of Bodom). This leaves Lake Bodom walking some pretty well trodden historical ground, not to mention there’s a definite stink of genre familiarity.
Compounding that odour are a cast of characters ripped straight from the Big Book of Horror Cliches. Atte (Santeri Mäntylä) and Elias (Mikael Gabriel) are the two weirdo kids with unhealthy fixations on violence. And then there’s the sexually liberated dope-smoking bad-girl Nora (Mimosa Willamo) and uptight Christian with more morals than Aesop, Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee).
When the girls arrive at the lake to find that there’s, a) no party, b) no friends joining them and c) that they’re camping in the exact same spot as a notorious massacre, they take it surprisingly well. The boys proceed to explain that they’re engaged in some fuzzy sociological experiment into the murders, and, rather than demand that they’re driven back to civilization immediately, the girls sit around the campfire, get drunk, high and start fooling around. They may as well power up a neon arrow that says “MURDER VICTIMS HERE.”
Before too long people are wandering off alone into the some suspiciously foggy woods. Then comes the screaming, stabbing, chasing and general carnage. About mid-way through, Lake Bodom plays its first twist. It’s a reasonably well-executed inversion of expectation that leaves you optimistic that the plot is about to go somewhere interesting. Sadly, after a clumsy, exposition stuffed flashback, it quickly becomes apparent that the director has no idea where the hell he’s going with any of this.
At that point the film panics and reverts to being a straight slasher flick with a slavish conformity to genre rules. That we’re given a sniff of a smarter film and promptly have it snatched from us somehow makes it worse than it ‘just’ being dumb. Not to mention that the villain, a silent guy with a knife, a dog and a tow truck is hardly Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. The film ends on a damp squib of unpleasant sexualized violence that the film theoretically justifies, but actually feels like it’s having its cake and eating it.
Lake Bodom ends up feeling more like the director’s horror demo reel than a coherent movie. There are effective scenes here, most notably a sequence where someone has to dive into a pitch-black lake to retrieve car keys from a corpse. This makes great use of darkness in the frame and has some excellent underwater photography, but leaves you puzzled why the rest of the film is so dowdy looking. Mustonon, who’s primarily a comedy director, also demonstrates that he’s paid attention to the broad rhythms of horror and subverting tension in some areas to surprise us in others.
But basic genre competence just ain’t good enough. The plotting and dialogue are sloppy, the characters are straight out of stereotype central (all dealing with ‘issue of the week’ teen drama bullshit), the woodland setting has been done to death and the villain is crushingly boring. Worse than all that is the way it flirts with something interesting before scuttling back to dull safety with its tail between its legs. There are multiple moments where Lake Bodom could tread new ground, but it simply doesn’t have the confidence to do so.
Lake Bodom is a dull Finnish horror film that flirts with genre subversion but quickly reverts to tiring slasher cliche.