×

SXSW Film Review: ‘Lake Bodom’

A fictional riff on an unsolved Finnish murder case includes a host of surprises in a smart genre package.

With:
Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa Willamo, Mikael Gabriel, Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla.

Riffing on a notorious real-life Finnish multiple murder still unsolved almost six decades later, “Lake Bodom” is not so much a slasher film as a meta-slasher film, toying knowingly with genre conventions and touchstones. This handsomely crafted horror thriller doesn’t get as referential as something like “The Cabin in the Woods,” but it’s similarly inclined to pull the rug out from under its premise at midpoint, then spring additional surprises that are clever if not (for those inclined to scrutinize) necessarily credible. It’s a promising step toward an international audience for director/co-scenarist Taneli Mustonen, whose popular but lowbrow “Reunion” comedies were less export-friendly.

In June 1960, four young campers — two 15-year-old girls and their 18-year-old boyfriends — were found several hours after a brutal attack on the shore of the titular lake, outside Espoo. Three had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death; a fourth was left battered and traumatized, with no clear recollection of the attack. For years, police questioned numerous suspects (including, decades later, the surviving boy), but no one was convicted. The case retains an almost mythic fascination in Finnish culture.

So it’s not entirely unlikely that more than half a century later, our fictional protagonists should head to Lake Bodom in order to reconstruct the circumstances of the crime, and perhaps finally determine its perpetrator. Actually, that’s the agenda for only dweeby, bespectacled Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla), who’s somewhat obsessed with the murders. His reluctant (and perhaps only) friend, tattooed bad-boy Elias (Mikael Gabriel), is an adolescent horndog with different, predictable priorities. They’ve coaxed female besties Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) and Nora (Mimosa Willamo) into coming along. Ida is a baby-faced blonde naif desperate to escape her joyless home life under a fanatically religious patriarch, while the caustic, tomboyish Nora seems most interested in spending time with Ida.

After the girls realize they’re not heading to a cabin as promised — instead, like the original quartet, they’ll sleep in a tent on the lakefront — the high-schoolers get a little high and break into platonic pairs. A late-night bathroom break isolates them further from each other, and at this half-hour juncture the initial violence occurs.

Within 15 panicked minutes, the original tragedy has been all-too-fatally reenacted, to a degree, although whether the killer is an unseen intruder or one of the current party is a question answered by the film’s first significant upending of expectations. There’s another such fate awaiting the guilty parties, however, resulting in a hectic third act that carries echoes of “Wolf Creek,” recent Sundance breakout “Killing Ground,” and other screen tales of nocturnal road peril. (The film’s most slavish homage occurs in flashback, with a locker-room tracking shot that tips its hat to the shot near the start of DePalma’s “Carrie.”)

The twists in “Lake Bodom” are unpredictable enough that one can reasonably suspend the disbelief its increasing reliance on horror tropes requires. (Still, not everyone will feel charitable toward the most outrageous of them.) The screenplay by Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvarinen dexterously welds together conceits not usually seen in a single horror narrative, though their facility can’t fully hide the underlying pulp cliches — nor do the writers perhaps want to.

In any case, Mustonen’s direction lends the  enterprise considerable confidence and panache. This is a very good-looking film — Daniel Lindholm’s widescreen lensing particularly excels at eerie forest nightscapes and frequent sweeping aerial shots — paced with cruelly playful precision. Panu Aaltio’s impressive score moves beyond initial ’80s direct-to-video-horror synth cheese to more glacial Tangerine Dream-like sounds and other offbeat complements.

Popular on Variety

SXSW Film Review: 'Lake Bodom'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 12, 2017. (In SXSW Film Festival — Midnights.) Running time: 84 MIN. (Original title: “Bodom.”)

Production: (Finland) A Don Films presentation in association with Film Constellation, Future Film, Munchhausen Productions and Post Control Helsinki. (International sales: Film Constellation, London.) Producer: Aleksi Hyvarinen. Executive producers: Toni Valla, Taneli Mustonen, Joris van Wijk, Fabien Westerhoff. Co-producers: Mika Pajunen, Elina Litvinova.

Crew: Director: Taneli Mustonen. Screenplay: Mustonen, Aleksi Hyvarinen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Daniel Lindholm. Editor: Aleksi Raij. Music: Panu Aaltio.

With: Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa Willamo, Mikael Gabriel, Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla.

More Film

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content