In recent years, Scandinavian crime thrillers have been widely successful on our TV screens, spurring many a British and US rip-off of the popular format. In Norway specifically, this interest in murder mystery and horror can be traced back to the 1958 film De dødes tjern (Lake of the Dead) which was adapted from the 1942 novel by Andre Bjerke. Nini Bull Robsahm’s film Lake of Death— thankfully, the film not being as corny as the title suggests— is an updated telling of that same story.
The film sees Lillian (Iben Akerlie) and a group of friends go to stay in a wooden cabin by a beautiful lake, a cabin that Lillian used to frequent with her brother Bjørn (Patrick Walshe McBride), who a year prior died in the woods that surround the lake. Lillian believes that going back to the cabin before it is sold will give her some closure (unbelievably stupid idea from the start).
Lillian’s idea of peace and closure is not met when friend Bernhard (Jakob Schøyen Andersen)— a true crime/horror podcaster— does absolutely everything in his power to disrupt Lillian’s healing process by frequently shoving microphones in everyone’s faces to ask about the disturbing history of the lake. These lakeside recordings of course set-up the films lore and backstory that explains that in the 1920s a man named Grovik who lived in the cabin became bewitched by the lake, then murdered his wife and killed himself in the lake.
Bernhard’s presence is incredibly irritating and serves no other purpose than being a vehicle to explain the backstory of the cabin, which could have been done in a much more creative and creepy way. The muddled lore of the film switches between one minute focusing on the lake as a source of evil and then switching to the cabin as the focus. Mixing this idea of a natural source of evil and the human evil committed by Grovik decades ago sets up a confusing structure when the audience also needs to factor in the timelier instance of Bjørn’s death on top of it. The group’s insistence on referencing classic horror films such as Misery, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street and classic found-footage tropes (all within the first act) does absolutely nothing to serve a film drowning in unoriginality.
Its incredibly paint-by-numbers fare as spooky events start to happen in the cabin and the lake but Akerlie does try to carry this entire film on her back. She holds herself with such an endearing vulnerability and just about saves the film from its own watery grave.
There is little to say about Lake of Death that you couldn’t already pull from reviews of countless other cabin-in-the-woods genre films such as the aforementioned Evil Dead. The films dependence upon referencing these other US horror films puts up a barrier preventing the film from exploring its Scandinavian roots and lore. Its an uncomplicated affair that is technically proficient but plods through its incredible lack of scares as if reciting from a well-worn textbook.
Lake of Death is available to stream now on Shudder
by Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She is a costume designer and trainee teacher living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Twitter @sqchloe and on Letterboxd here.