Lake of Death (De Dødes Tjern) is a Norwegian horror movie from writer/director Nini Bull Robsahm. It is based on the 1958 Norwegian horror film, also called of De Dødes Tjern, which went by Lake of the Dead in English.
Mourning the tragic disappearance of her brother, Bjørn (Patrick Walshe McBride), Lillian (Iben Akerlie) returns to her family lake house with a group of four friends for one last time before selling the property. On the first night, one of the friends tells them the local legend of Gruvik, a man driven to insanity by the lure of the lake, murdering his family before drowning himself.
Lillian is not ready to be there and, still suffering with her grief, her emotional state is fragile. She begins to hallucinate and have strange dreams about forest vines and a black tar-like substance. She starts to sleepwalk. Meanwhile, strange, seemingly innocuous things start to occur in the house and tensions rise as accusations fly.
The main issue Lake of Death faces is with expectation vs reality. The trailer invites us to expect a movie placed somewhere between Evil Dead and The Raft sequence from Creepshow 2, with the full complement of screeching strings on the soundtrack and the promise of what looks to be some gory, terrifying horror. It is a mite strange that Lake of Death teases us further with a script referencing Evil Dead, Nightmare On Elm Street and Cabin Fever, alongside a classic cabin-in-the-woods set up; and yet the berserk energy and gore of these classics was never on the agenda.
Lake of Death is an entirely different type of horror film. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, just that disappointment is inevitable if an audience is lead to expect one type of film and delivered another. Lake of Death is, in fact, more of a thriller with a supernatural edge.
Therefore, for the kind of movie Lake of Death actually is, it’s not bad, if a little unremarkable. It’s slow going to begin with, but there are some effective chills and one early scene in particular, around the breakfast table, works very well to set the tone.
Lake of Death also looks great, taking full advantage of the spectacular Norwegian scenery including the dense forest and glistening lake. The strange, dark places of Lillian’s hallucinations are nicely realised, too, and look both stylish and horrifying.
On the downside, it is lacking somewhat in the character department. Although we get a decent idea of who everybody is, and there’s no fault with the performances, it’s hard to understand how this group of people has actually come together. Lillian and Sonja are friends and Sonja and Harald are a couple, but as a group, the dynamic is just not there, either in terms of friendship or acrimony.
It also feels like a missed opportunity to not to delve deeper into the ramifications of the grief and trauma Lillian has experienced. Both The Babadook and Midsommar have explored this in a horror context and Lake of Death would not be any poorer with this kind of depth (if you’ll excuse the pun).
Taken as a whole, Lake of Death doesn’t quite sustain its horror levels, although it does decent work as a mystery. It might not have a great deal of longevity outside of an evening’s viewing, but it’s a solid option, particularly if you’re watching with a Shudder subscription.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘Lake of Death’ is now available on horror streaming service Shudder.