This year’s South by Southwest lineup was surprisingly vacant of scare-focused horror – Midnighters selection included – but Lake Bodom lessened the sting of such programming. Taneli Mustonen’s Finnish thriller is an old-school slasher turned upside-down, happily defying perceptions that drive generic genre constructs. It’s based on an actual 1960s cold-case, where four campers were carved up in their tent (three died, one lived) – yet this is no retelling. Mustonen and co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen adopt one of many floated media theories as fact, and mold a hellish camping trip around the discussed hypothesis. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. That doesn’t make Lake Bodom any less interesting.
It all starts as many teenage slashers do. Two boys – Elias (Mikael Gabriel) and Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä) – and two attractive females – Nora (Mimosa Willamo) and Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) – head off on a weekend getaway. The girls think they’re driving towards a cabin near Lake Bodom, but it turns out that Atte has freakier motives. He believes that the Lake Bodom killer still lives as a woodland hermit, who can be summoned forward with a staged recreation of the 60s crime scene. Nora and Ida aren’t too keen on playing dress-up, but late-night drug usage loosens inhibitions. At one point, the kids become split into two co-ed groups – then one of the campers dies. Brutally. Looks like Atte was right after all, which couldn’t be worse news for a new batch of Lake Bodom victims.
Mustonen deserves commendation on style, as Lake Bodom pours a fluid nightscape directly into your eyeballs. The woods themselves are thick and dangerous, as scared teens dart around foggy openings. Water glistens in the moonlight while the empty sounds of silence accentuates painful screams. Kills strike with liquid gruesomeness, but even more impressive are atmospheric cues that paint a fine-tuned portrait of campfire slasher stories. Cinematography rushes to the head, while editing foots a frantic pace. The film’s best work comes later with glued mouths and a tow-truck sequence that spews heated sparks, but divulging more would disservice plotted twists. Nothing that needs to be spoiled.
Lake Bodom works as a constant zig-zag that never shoots straight. Plotted subversions dash three steps ahead of audience understanding, almost as a taunt. About 95% of the time, this is a very good thing. Slasher fans can appreciate a tree-lined escape that intrigues despite a minimal body count. The other 5% is a pretty far leap in logic, but allows for two characters who are f#$ked in the head with the nastiest of intentions (this is a bloody good thing). In keeping vagueness, I will type no more on the subject. These are my thoughts, and we can discuss after you’ve experienced Lake Bodom exclusively on Shudder come this May.
Getting back to things you CAN read about, Mustonen’s cast serviceably navigates high-school awkwardness and fate-facing fear. Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä is the true-crime loving weirdo who constantly keeps us on-edge, while Mikael Gabriel injects a calming vibe as the mood-altering party boy. Mimosa Willamo and Nelly Hirst-Gee aren’t helpless fawns, but without Gabriel’s cool-bro chill, these girls would *correctly* run away from a murder recreation. Because they stay, we’re granted two female genre roles that are so much more than gender normalcy. Willamo is so devil-may-cry in her freedom, while Hirst-Gee plays daddy’s little religious princess with noted hints of innocence that are prime for corruption. Then the blood starts flying, and performances intensify gleefully. All for the better.
Horror fans are going to have a blast with Lake Bodom. There are some script issues that require a hefty distancing from reality, but that doesn’t stop Taneli Mustonen from sparking a ferocious chain of events that should please even the timidest viewers. Cinematics range a beautified spectrum (deep-dive underwater lake shots/savage survival darkness) and gore spikes with sharpened appeal, all woven around one slippery serpent of a story. Would High Tension comparisons be applicable? Quite possibly, but don’t worry about that. Just enjoy a fierce Finnish import that burns with campfire terror – and be doubly impressed by what comes after.
Lake Bodom is a slasher flick that won't be fully appreciated until the credits roll, so be sure not to duck out of this sinister campfire tale too early.