Lake Bodom

2 out of 5

Directed by: Taneli Mustonen

This isn’t a bad movie.  It’s very competently shot, and features a car “chase” sequence towards the end that’s particularly inspired and very well executed.  The reception also seems to have been generally pretty good, mostly praising the way co-writer / director Taneli Mustonen handles the tone before and after some of the plot reveals – the movie doesn’t swing around these reveals, as other films do, instead treating all sections as ‘relevant’ – and yet, I had a hard time allotting a ‘good’ (nay ‘great’) rating to a movie that never provided a valid throughline for why things are happening, or even necessarily allowed us a way to connect with the confusingly sketched characters.  The horror-movie-a-day review kindly suggests that some of the scripting gaffs may be mis- or poor translation issues, from the original Finnish to English, but nothing on screen really suggests that: there aren’t any odd beats where the dialogue doesn’t connect, and none of the characters’ actions or portrayed emotions seem contrary to the subtitles.  So I’m more on Lake Bodom being vague, which can be an acceptable approach, except here, where the vagueness butts up against senselessness.

The Lake Bodom murders were a real-life event (of which I wasn’t previously aware) in which three teens were killed, one badly injured, when camping by the titular lake.  Though there were suspects (and one later arrest-and-release), the culprit still has not been found or settled on.  The movie purports to be ‘based’ on these murders, but Taneli Mustonen (and other co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen) instead rather smartly use it as a jumping off point, for a new group of teens to go camping in the original location in hopes of… reenacting the murder…?

That question mark is one of the initial problems.  There’s chatter of this reenactment, and that it will “help” to expose some new truth, but it’s never clear how that’s to be the case, and why things like mockups of the original clothing that was worn would be needed.  It’s two boys and two girls, just like in the original incident, but the boys “trick” the girls in to coming along under the auspice of… a party at a cabin?  Fine, that’s horror movie fodder, but when they get to the campsite and there’s no cabin, and instead the girls are told they’re there to play out a murder scene… there’s no indignation.  While this can be said to tie into the movie’s later events, it’s a disconnect that’s repeated later during some sloppy, explanatory flashback business, which drastically changes everything and yet… no indignation.  It’s shown, for some reason,  that one of the girls has a strict, religious upbringing, but it’s not clear why this is relevant.  There are relationship discussions and friendship discussions, which should or could lead to deeper things, but they wholly don’t.  So with no clear character motivations, and no clear reason to be in the woods, we’re left to watch a generic “pick ’em off one by one” slasher, which, as mentioned, is at least shot and mostly edited well (some sequences use cut-to-black smash cuts that were just tension killers, held for moments too long).  But there’s still another problem with that slasher: the movie’s runtime.  When things have come to a head, we’re only a third of the way through.  So… you know something else is coming, and given the above oddities and vagueness, you’ll likely have some guesses what that will be.  When the movie comes to a second head, there’s still a half hour left.  Same concept.

I think this was a clever way to springboard off of a real event, and I do think that, at a high level, the different plotlines were good ones.  Handled with a bit more awareness, it could have translated into something with a story / immersion quality to match the competence of its visuals.