Every camper's worst nightmare came true at Lake Bodom in 1960 when four teenagers were stabbed to death while sleeping in their tent.
Here’s the lowdown:
Four high school acquaintances (they’re not really “friends”) drive to a very rural and off the beaten path lakeside site – where 40+ years ago, four teenagers were brutally butchered (this is based on a true case). Atte (Santeri Mäntylä) is obsessed with the mystery from so many decades ago – a mystery which remains unsolved along with the popular belief that the murderer is still at large. So by taking his friend Elias (Mikael Gabriel) and two girls they sort of know from school – Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) and Nora (Mimosa Willamo), Atte hopes to recreate the basic set-up of these four victims, and attempt to solve the crime, or at least find some new insights. But as you might expect from a “teenagers at a lake find themselves in peril” film, things don’t go as planned.
I was most intrigued by the film’s twist. It’s a moment I didn’t totally see coming. Even if you do, you’ll be taken aback by some of the finer details. And it’s this fascinating and organic reveal which truly sets Lake Bodom apart from so many other slasher-type films. The film is a perfect example of how so many genre films today are taking the tried and true tropes of horror and turning them on their ear. This is where success lies. How long will this method last, before it too dries up and crumbles into cliché? Who knows, but enjoy it while it lasts.
I don’t believe I’ve seen such a turnaround in a film before. If the track which Lake Bodom takes is not new – it’s at least new to me. It’s clever, unexpected (not so much the first part, but the second) and lifts up the rest of the film (which is awesome to begin with) to the levels of greatness.
I was very pleased with the performances from the four leads. They felt like regular teens, and that helps to sell the façade. They’re real and when things become crazy, we are still able to believe in their many varied actions. That’s a major selling point for the picture.
As our lead, Ida (Hurst-Gee) looks like a young Mariel Hemingway, but that innocent beauty also hides some deep repression (Ida comes from an extremely strict and religious family). She is dealing with typical to overly-harsh teenager problems, but she has a friend in Nora. They’ve got a good friendship and it’s a nice chemistry between the two actors. Hurst-Gee wears her heart on her sleeve as Ida, and she’s a pleasure to watch – in every part of the twisting and turning story.
There’s a lengthy, expository flashback in the last third of the film, and since we’ve all seen flashbacks fail miserably or ruin the flow of the story, it’s worth mentioning that this important look back on the characters – is exceptionally well done, placed properly within the film’s running time, and in no way effects the speeding-car pace (ahem) of the film’s climax.
Speaking of a car chase, I was immensely impressed with the stunt and camera work of the film’s third act. It’s crazy-intense and had something like Mad Max: Fury Road been focused on only a couple of cars, and not dozens – this would be how it would have looked. It’s a breathless sequence and it just keeps going. I can’t properly express my love for what the filmmakers accomplished here – especially for what is essentially an indie film. Brilliant camera and stunt work? Holy cow, yes!
I had the striking thought as the film reached its second act – that “this is what a quality and effective film looks like”. It’s always a very welcome and frankly; infrequent occurrence when I find myself snapping back into reality during a film screening. Not that I am particularly jaded, but that even for a fleeting moment, if a film is able to completely suck me in to its world — it has won. It’s a rarity, so when a movie accomplishes this – it’s bound to be memorable. The aforementioned car chase was so well done and so breathless, that I did indeed, lose myself.
With that, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I have to reserve perfect 5-star ratings for something above and beyond. A 4-star or a 4.5-star rating means that you were practically perfect in every way – but you didn’t transcend or transport me to another place. You were great and all of your pieces worked, but the absence of that je ne sai quoi, or the “it” factor, kept me from being completely and totally immersed. I know those types of movie-going experiences are rare folks, but they are definitely not some sort of urban legend.
Which leaves me with a dilemma. How do I rate the film at hand? Technically, I can find no fault. And with the mention above of “this is what a quality and effective film looks like”, on top of a few of those fleeting “transcendental” moments (that mind-blowing climax, whoa!), can I justify a perfect score for Lake Bodom? Hmmmm…
The answer is yes. I’m officially welcoming Lake Bodom to my coveted “5-star, perfect rating” club. It joins such films as The House at the End of Time and this year’s The Witch. Lake Bodom’s inclusion now makes only eight films over the past two years of reviewing – to garner such a lovely score. And believe me, I don’t take such judgments lightly. But in the end, if I can find no missteps or moments of hesitation from the filmmakers – and I get that extra bit of “whatchamacallit”, well – here it is.
Lake Bodom takes a legend and a tragedy and attempts to answer some of the questions surrounding that gruesome mystery. While doing so, it creates an intense and exciting film, with an inspired multi–reveal about some well-drawn and authentic teen-aged characters. In case you weren’t keeping score, this gets a high recommendation!
The film is swimming along on the festival circuit. But keep your swimsuit on – as it may eventually reach your neighborhood and you won’t want to miss it!