Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lake Bodom (April 1st and 2nd at the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival)

[LAKE BODOM screens Saturday April 1st at 11:35 pm and Sunday April 2nd at 1:35 pm at Tower City Cinemas as part of the 41st Cleveland International Film Festival.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

LAKE BODOM starts out with a fairly standard slasher movie set up. A co-ed group of teens decide to go camping in the woods at the site of an infamous murder (an actual case, the 1960 murder of 3 young campers at the titular lake in Finland). Sexual tension is in the air, and it seems fairly obvious the characters will pair off to fool around at some point. Putting a damper on the fun is the presence of a killer who seems bent on dispatching the horny young people.

But then things take a twist and LAKE BODOM turns into more of a crime/suspense film with a subtext about sexism and sexual harassment. A film about the ways in which a rumor, even one that's completely unfounded, can not only destroy a reputation, but spread out to destroy other lives.

Except it's not. Psych.

This is one of those movies that is all about the surprising twists and turns. Well written characters, thoughtful themes, and a solid, believable narrative aren't really major concerns.

And that can be fine sometimes in horror, where style has often trumped substance.

Certainly director/co-writer Taneli Mustonen displays a bold visual style and a knack for playing with his audience. It's just not enough to make up for how contrived some of the film's twists feel. And then there are the film's sexual politics, which can be cringe inducing at times.

It's hard to get into specifics without getting into spoiler territory. Let's just say there's a particular type of female character that is very much an overused trope. This kind of character often comes off as offensive when handled poorly, and sadly that's the case here.

There's an undeniable energy to LAKE BODOM that carries it over some of the rough patches, and Mustonen is clearly a talent behind the camera. As a script writer, perhaps not so much (although co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen shares some of the blame).

It also helps that the film's female leads (Mimosa Willamo and Nelly Hirst-Gee) give strong, committed performances – imagine what they could have done with actual characters. But since none of the characters in LAKE BODOM are fleshed out beyond the most bare bones stereotypes, it's hard to care about any of them. It's also hard to swallow some of the plot contrivances and over the top moments. At times, it kind of reminds one of Alexandre Aja's 2003 debut HIGH TENSION (aka SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE), both for better and for worse.

Nonetheless, one can still admire Mustonen's filmmaking skill. He may not be working from a great screenplay, but he still directs the hell out of it. With a better script, he has the potential to produce a top notch thriller or horror film. This just isn't it. 2 out of 4 stars.

If you don't get a chance to catch it at the festival, LAKE BODOM will be released exclusively on Shudder in May 2017.

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