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Review: Lake of Death (2019)

The 1958 adaptation of Andre Bjerke’s novel Lake of the Dead is considered the first Norwegian horror movie. Nini Bull Robsahm, who previously co-wrote Rovdyr has remade it as Lake of Death (De dødes tjern). There haven’t been that many Norwegian genre films, but the Cold Prey trilogy and the two Dead Snow films are certainly well regarded. And of course, there is The Psychics from last year.

Lillian (Iben Akerlie) and some friends go to her family’s lakeside cabin. A year ago her twin brother Bjorn (Patrick Walshe McBride, Dracula, Backdraft 2) disappeared, presumed drowned. The lake already has a sinister reputation due to a murder/suicide back in the 1920s. And there are local tales of a creature living in its depths. Or maybe it’s the ghosts of children who were drowned in the lake.

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It doesn’t take long before Lillian’s issues with nightmares and sleepwalking resurface. But then the others start seeing and hearing things. Is it the spirits from the lake? Or is there a more rational explanation?

I haven’t seen the original version, but I know it centred around a group of older adults. Lake of Death features the more usual young adult cast. Apart from Lillian, there’s Sonja (Sophia Lie), a former competitive swimmer and her boyfriend Harald (Elias Munk). There’s also paranormal podcaster Bernhard (Jakob Schøyen Andersen), and Lillian’s ex Gabriel (Jonathan Harboe).

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Just as the characters are familiar, so is much of the plot. They find a cellar in the cabin that Lillian never knew existed. And in that cellar is a notebook with creepy drawings. Cell phones get no signal, characters refer to other movies, etc. Robsahm seems to have discarded anything inherently Norwegian about the story in favour of making Lake of Death a film for the international market.

That also extends to the behind-the-scenes roles. Lake of Death was edited by Bob Murawski who has worked with Sam Raimi on Army of Darkness and Drag Me to Hell among other films. And the score is by John Debney, whose credits include The Passion of the Christ and Venom.

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Which isn’t to say Lake of Death is a bad film. Shot in 35mm rather than digitally, it looks stunning and delivers plenty of atmosphere. The story held my attention, the jumps scares deliver as it works up to a tense final act. And it features one of my favourite songs, Blue Oyster Cult’s Cities on Flame (With Rock and Roll) on the soundtrack.

But one of the reasons I, and I suspect many others, watch foreign films is to see something different. And Lake of Death isn’t different. It’s enjoyable, but nothing you haven’t seen before.

Lake of Death is available to stream on Shudder starting July 16th.

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