They say that the truth is usually stranger than fiction. That is what I was hoping the case would be with Taneli Mustonen’s fictional take on the most notorious unsolved murder in the history of Finland, Lake Bodom. Yes, this European attempt at a modern day slasher film is based on a true story, for a while anyway.
We begin by revisiting the still-unsolved murder of three attractive teenagers in 1960 who sadly did not live long enough to learn to never camp and have sex in the woods from horror films that would be produced decades later (the fourth victim miraculously survived but claimed to have no memory of the attack for the rest of his life). Like the Phantom Killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown, the killer was never caught and there are no suspects.
So, we cut to more modern times. Apparently learning nothing in their Finnish history classes, another group of attractive teenagers – two girls and two boys – venture out to the same lake to well, have sex and hope they don’t get killed in the process. We have Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä), whos obsessed with solving the 1960 murders and Elias (Mikael Gabriel), who just wants, well, you might be able to guess. The girls are a little more interesting. Nelly Hirst-Gee’s Ida, is your classic “final horror girl.” She is trying to escape from her oppressive family with her best friend, Nora (Mimosa Willamo) and the prying eyes of her horrible classmates who passed around nude photos of her after passed out at a party. So much for being innocent and virtuous.
The strength of Lake Bodom is not so much in its admittedly stunning cinematography by Daniel Lindholm and dreamy score by Panu Aaltio, but in its understanding of the mechanics of the slasher genre and how to properly subvert them. Like Scream all those years ago, it does not set out to reinvent the wheel, but to champion it and add some meta-narrative twists along the way. Like Cabin in the Woods, it succeeds even if the twists are more calculated than organic feeling. With gutsy conviction like this, it is no surprise that Taneli Mustonen was mostly known for raucous comedies before this.
The main problem lies with the running time of 85 minutes. A feature this short does not warrant the amount of tonal shifts and outrageous twists that Lake Bodom is determined to deliver almost ceaselessly. Whether it is a car chase scene, or an attack in a tent, it plays with audience expectations confidently without being tongue-in-cheek or dreary. But the biggest surprise amongst the flaws is how many truly creative ideas and infectous energy that Mr. Mustonen injects into the ssadly under-estimated killer-in-the-woods genre. The messy final act might remind us a little too much of other recent festival hits like the Australian Killing Ground, but the aesthetics are bold enough to make you forget that nothing we’re seeing is as conventional as the premise of the film would want you to believe.