On 4th June 1960 four Finnish teenagers were camping at Lake Bodom, just outside the town of Espoo. Sometime between 4am and 6am they were attacked; three were brutally murdered while one was badly injured but survived. To this day, the crimes remain unsolved and writer/director Taneli Mustonen has chosen the bloody murders as the basis for his new film Lake Bodom.
If you’re expecting a version of the familiar teenagers-go-into-the-woods-and-get-murdered storyline you’re partially correct, but Mustonen has played around with the generic tropes of the standard premise to create a film that is constantly surprising, and stylishly shot. The first act remains largely true to type, but around the mid-point the film begins to deviate in interesting and unexpected ways that keep you intrigued as to where the narrative is going.
Initially with the intention of recreating the crimes to test a theory – without the murders – Atte (Mäntylä) and Elias (Gabriel) take two schoolfriends Nora (Willamo) and Ida (Hirst-Gee) camping to the titular lake. Initially failing to mention their real intention, when the boys reveal their true intentions the girls reluctantly accept the situation and the group seem to make the best of it before things inevitably begin to go bump in the night.
To reveal any more would do Lake Bodom, and Mustonen, a disservice as this is a well-constructed, thoughtfully planned slasher film that flirts with convention without fully giving over to it. In places, Lake Bodom has more in common with a thriller than an outright horror, and this lends the film an air of mystery that Mustonen’s visuals further endorse. Foreboding, mist filled woods pierced by shards of moonlight may not be wholly original to the genre, but here the setting takes on a physicality, given weight by a history that serves as the inspiration for the film.
The performances also stand out from the usual fare, often typified by mindless teens simply running and screaming for much of the runtime. With Lake Bodom you are never certain of each character’s motives, and while you may think you have a handle on proceedings, each revelation changes the direction of the narrative in interesting ways.
Without doubt Lake Bodom is one of the best entries from recent years into the canon. It could easily have become yet another slasher-by-numbers but strong performances, thoughtful direction and above all, a genuine narrative, elevate this film above initial expectations.
LAKE BODOM / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TANELI MUSTONEN / STARRING: MIMOSA WILLAMO, NELLY HIRST-GEE, SANTERI HELINHEIMO / RELEASE DATE: UK RELEASE DATE TBA