It’s no lie that stateside slasher fans have been in a bit of a dry spell as far as theatrically released slasher films go as of late. While films like You’re Next and Unfriended arguably boasted strong slasher elements and 2011’s Scream 4 was likely the last traditional mainstream slasher released in theaters this decade, the life of the slasher seems to have shifted more to television as of late. With that being said, fans of the subgenre rightfully rejoice when a film like Lake Bodom comes along–even if it has to come to us all the way from Finland. Though the story is inspired by a real life Finnish cold case from 1960, writer-director Taneli Mustonen’s film takes its own unique direction, with Mustonen and co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen using the conspiracy theories behind the murders as a jumping off point for a modern horror story that has so much fun with its twists and turns that you can’t help but be entertained.
Lake Bodom–which premiered overseas simply as Bodom last year–tells the story of Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee), a teen from a strict, religious family who is convinced by her best friend Nora (Mimosa Willamo) to sneak away for a night with two male classmates, Elias and Atte (Mikael Gabriel and Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä, respectively). The group presumably sets out for a night of camping and fun at the infamous titular lake. Little do they know, Elias and Atte have plans to use the girls to help re-stage the decades-old murders of 3 unsuspecting teenagers at the site in an effort to prove a prevalent conspiracy theory surrounding the unsolved case. Little do the four teens know, they are welcoming danger by attempting to dig into the mystery, slowly walking into a campsite nightmare of their own as the night progresses.
If there’s one thing I can say about Mustonen’s film, it is that–for better or worse–it does not at all head where you would expect. What begins as a typical slasher set-up in the vein of Friday the 13th slowly begins to unfold as something far more complex. At times, the film structurally recalls a couple of other popular European horror efforts over the past fifteen years, though to name them here may already be giving away too much about the directions Lake Bodom‘s plot takes. In general, it is hard to specifically say too much more about the plot without spoiling some of the best bits of the film. Needless to say, there are a few stark twists in Lake Bodom that quickly ramp up the tension in surprising ways as the film progresses.
With that being said, I must mention that some of the turns in Lake Bodom may not wholly work for everyone, however. There is one particular surprise reveal early that is accompanied by a scene of extended exposition that felt a bit lazy and convoluted for my tastes. Still, for every lull in Lake Bodom, there are more than a few entertaining sequences to make up for it, and Mustonen handles even the most outlandish of twists with an energy that will keep you hooked nonetheless. One noteworthy scene later in the film flips the script yet again in a frenzied moment involving a car, which made for one hell of a good time. As a horror fan with a strong taste for suspense and an effective use of set pieces in slashers, the scene in question actually brought a smile to my face. By ultimately maintaining this air of unrelenting tension and rapidly-paced terror once things get going, Lake Bodom provides the thrills and level of fun you would hope to find in a slasher without ever having to truly fall back on predictable and tired subgenre tropes.
That’s not to say that the film is jaw-droppingly original. While Lake Bodom subverts expectations within the slasher subgenre, it does not necessarily do anything that hasn’t been done before in the greater scope of thrillers or horror flicks alike. This may disappoint some who are ultimately hoping for a game-changer a la Scream or The Cabin in the Woods, especially after reading some of the more hyperbolically positive reviews out there. Still, it is worth noting that the film does what it sets out to do in an extremely well-executed and polished fashion. Also, the fact that Lake Bodom maintains a very straightforward horror tone for the entirety of its runtime will be a welcome subversion for many genre purists who have grown tired of films overstuffed with self-referential humor or ironic approaches to the genre.
On that note, Mustonen and Hyvärinen take a very unassuming approach to Lake Bodom‘s script, which is felt particularly in the film’s simple, but realistic characterization and dialogue. The performances from the film’s leads–especially those of Hirst-Gee and Willamo–also effectively capture the experiences of modern teenagers dealing with mounting social and familial pressures, all the while viewing life through a lens clouded by naïveté, self-centeredness, and emotional instability. There is something to be said for this rather refreshing and irony-free approach to characters and I especially appreciated this about the film. With horror in general, this approach also takes you back to a time when the goal of filmmakers was simply to scare the crap out of audiences and provide relentless fun for an hour and a half, rather than to spend time tirelessly deconstructing the genre or society as a whole. There is certainly room for both types of approaches in the genre, but sometimes you just want to have unbridled fun with a horror flick and Lake Bodom provides just that.
While Lake Bodom hits a couple of snags early on and doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, it is a very solid and welcome entry in the slasher subgenre. Upheld by a rather smart script, solid performances, and slick direction, slasher fans looking for a good time should keep an eye out for this one!
Lake Bodom screened at the 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals on March 12, 2017. It will be released on Shudder in May 2017.