The Overlook Film Festival Review: LAKE BODOM

This Finnish slasher based on a real story will surprise you.

God, are you listening? Please do whatever is in your power to ensure Taneli Mustonen is given the reigns for the Friday the 13th franchise. I mean, maybe Mustonen, a Fininsh director who has been previously known for his comedies, has ambitions that do not involve the cinematic exploits of Jason Voorhees – but we all have to do things we don’t want to do for the greater good of world culture. And believe you me, the world needs Mustonen behind the camera of more horror films.

Lake Bodom, recently acquired by Shudder, is a slick and stylish take on the real life Lake Bodom murders that rocked Finnish society in 1960. Four teenagers were stabbed to death while sleeping in a tent on the lake’s shore. While rumors have persisted over the years, the killer was never caught and the real-life tragedy has become urban legend, seeping through generations of Finnish youth to become as potent a tale of horror as a Goosebumps novel.

Mustonen, who grew up watching banned horror films passed around via bootlegs, knew how hard it would be to film a real life account of the murders – the country is very small and it is next to impossible to not have some kind of connection with the families of the victims – nor did he want to. With his film, Mustonen, along with co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen, not only captures the dread and terror behind the real-life murders; he also manages to explore the motivations that could cause somebody to snuff out the life of a fellow human. Lake Bodom is a meta-horror film that explores how violence can beget more violence and how easy it is to lose control once the shit hits the fan.

Lake Bodom stars a group of young actors – all seemingly cast from the same cloth as so many teen-centric horror films before - as four high school students who travel to the real-life site of the 1960 murder for their own individual reasons. Atte (Santeri Helinheimo) is a shy introvert, obsessed with being the one to finally solve the murders. His friend Elias (Mikael Gabriel), tattooed and possessing an undeniable swagger, has girls on mind during the trip. Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) is trying to escape the recent bout of controversy that has enveloped her life after nude pictures of her spread through school. Nora (Mimosa Willamo) is along for the ride as she tries to support her friend Ida in coming out of her shell.

The teens arrive at the lake, so sure of their immortality that they hope to lure the killer (if he’s still out there) out of retirement so they can either prove a theory, be a hero or escape their oppressive home life. Never once do they stop to wonder what will happen if the killer actually shows up. Nor do they seem to have packed any real weapons. Needless to say, things don’t work out the way the kids expect.

Audience expectations are subverted, blood is spilled and the gang – what’s left of them – is put through the ringer in a series of truly gnarly set-pieces, all beautifully shot by Mustonen and his production team. This is escalation horror of the finest vineyard.

On the surface, Lake Bodom seems to be just another teens-die-in-the-woods horror flick – fun, disposable and exactly what you would expect it to be. Mustonen wisely plays to these expectations for the first half of the film, leading the audience along their expected cinematic journey and checking off all the jump scares, petty teen drama and red herrings that audiences go in expecting. But, when things take a turn for the left, that’s when the film begins to really soar. Mustonen has wisely laid the tracks so impeccably for what seems to be a conventional horror film, the minute he takes the train off the rail, it all clicks into place and elevates the picture to a higher level.

To speak too much about the second half of the film is to spoil much of Lake Bodom’s fun. But even without the film’s twists and turns, it would still be a beautiful film. The film crew was unable to shoot at the real Lake Bodom due to an Angry Birds theme park being built near the site of the murders, but Mustonen and his crew create a fifth character of the film’s setting – the creeping dread of the woods; the mist coming up off the lake; the edge of the water, dark with unknown danger – these elements are beautifully captured with the hyper-realism of a great David Fincher film.

While I’m ecstatic that Shudder is going to be sharing this film with American audiences, I hope that they also provide the means for some kind of theatrical run because this is a movie that absolutely needs to be seen on the big screen. Regardless, if you’re a fan of subversive horror that doesn’t take the time to play nice with its audiences, don’t miss Lake Bodom when it is eventually released. And maybe, if we’re lucky, Mustonen will be held hostage and forced to breathe life into the stale American slasher sub-genre.