M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Released on July16, 2020. Streaming exclusively on SHUDDER!
LAKE OF DEATH (2020)
aka DE DODES TJERNE
Directed by Nini Bull Robsahm
Written by Nini Bull Robsahm
Starring Patrick Walshe McBride, Iben Akerlie, Ulric von der Esch, Jonathan Harboe, Elias Munk, Jakob Schøyen Andersen, Sophia Lie
LAKE OF DEATH is a Norwegian film that bobbed up on Shudder last week. Again, a group of youngsters return to a family cabin in the woods off of a lake in the magical land of Norwegia. This one is more of a traditional style horror reminiscent of EVIL DEAD, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and the obscure 80’s gem THE SLAYER (and if you remember that old nugget, congrats, you’re as old and into horror as I am). This is the first time Lillian (played by Iben Akerlie) is returning to the cabin since her twin brother Bjorn (played Patrick Walshe McBride) disappeared into the lake two years ago and her friends are there to support her on this trip that is supposed to be cathartic. While the usual tomfoolery of drugs, drinks, and debauchery occur, Lillian struggles with her own mental state as she keeps hallucinating that a black liquid substance is creeping all other her body, down the walls, in the sinks, and all over the place. When her friends begin disappearing, Lillian believes the lake, rumored to be bottomless and the site of much horror in the local folklore, is out to get them.
LAKE OF DEATH has a deep love for 80’s horror. When a cellar is found in the cabin, they say, “This is just like the cellar from EVIL DEAD!” When someone is sleepwalking, one of the kids quotes Freddy Krueger. While this might be clunky in an American film, it really does feel like genuine adoration for some of the best eras of horror. Still there’s a lot that makes it stand on its own as am effective horror film.
What makes LAKE OF DEATH distinctive is that it really walks a tightrope holding back exactly what kind of horror film it is. Lillian experiences all kinds of hallucinations, but are these simply visions of a damaged mind or some kind of premonition of supernatural happenings to come? LAKE OF DEATH flirts with being a film of supernatural terror from ancient Norwegian folklore or a slasher film with a human horror stalking the group. The film keeps the answer quiet for an extremely long time, suggesting one or the other or both or none at all. While I was itching for the answer, I was having fun getting to know these campers and wondering when and how they will meet their impending demise.
One criticism of LAKE OF DEATH is that nothing completely horrific happens until the hour mark. Sure, there are all kinds of suspicious activity occurring and strange visions we see through Lillian’s eyes, but the group isn’t really affected until quite a long way in. This makes for a lot of scenes of people scratching their heads at the minor oddities going on like someone abducting and tying up the dog, someone making lunch, someone opening and closing doors, along with a few too many scenes of Lillian doubting her own sanity when she sees black liquid dripping from everywhere. I never really was looking at my watch during LAKE OF DEATH, but the visions and prolonged mystery may be tiresome to some.
I also found that the actress playing Lillian (Iben Akerlie) was overselling the dour and melancholy act. Sure, I understand she has just lost her twin brother and is dealing with a lot of stress, but if she is this fragile and unstable, she should be getting therapy, not going away on a trip with her friends for the weekend. While it seems, they might be there to help her through this tough time, most of the film is dedicated to them partying, going off having sex, and taking notes for a paranormal podcast, while two of the men are making sexual advances towards her. There’s not a lot of support going on for Lillian here, which makes the point of all of them meeting at her dead brother’s house a little pointless. I did have a lot of fun watching these guys party though, which is summed up in a few quirky and lively scenes involving a bedsheet ghost and some rockin’ faux American rock n’ roll.
LAKE OF DEATH wraps in a twisted but tidy manner, reminiscent of slasher and cabin in the woods films from yesteryear. There’s a pretty solid reveal and the whole film has some wonderfully startling imagery and scenes of tension and suspense. Fans of those old slashers and monster films will find a lot of familiar territory covered in LAKE OF DEATH.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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