'Lake Bodom': Film Review | London Film Festival

Bodom Still 1 - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Future Film
A nightmare among elm trees.

An infamous real-life unsolved murder case inspired Finnish director Taneli Mustonen’s teens-in-peril thriller, which pays homage to some classic slasher movies.

Taking a real multiple homicide case as its inspiration, Lake Bodom is a superior Finnish slasher movie with enough production gloss and narrative ingenuity to secure a U.K. premiere at the London Film Festival last week. In June 1960, three teenagers were murdered and another left badly injured by an unknown assailant while camping beside a remote forest lake west of Helsinki. These notorious events remain newsworthy in Finland, where various suspects have come under police scrutiny over the decades, including an alleged KGB agent and the sole surviving victim of the attack. More than half a century later, the case remains unsolved.

Writer-director Taneli Mustonen, best known domestically for light comedies, shifts confidently into bloodthirsty thriller mode with Lake Bodom. Paying homage to some 1980s slasher classics, but not too weighted down by horror conventions, this twist-heavy exercise in shock and gore is assured plenty of further play at genre-friendly festivals, beginning with Monsters of Film in Stockholm later this week. Outside the fest circuit, it should find a modest readymade audience on both big and small screens.

In present-day Finland, tattoo-covered teenage bad-boy Elias (Mikael Gabriel) and his geeky buddy Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla) set off on a road trip to the Bodom murder site, where they plan to re-enact the massacre as a tasteless photo project. They persuade two female schoolmates to join them, religiously repressed wallflower Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) and her more spirited best friend Nora (Mimosa Willamo), but without explaining their motives. As night falls over their remote campfire gathering, tensions between the quartet take a turn from flirtatious to angry to vengeful. And then the slaughter begins.

So far, this is a fairly rote slasher set-up. But Lake Bodom signals its elevated artistic aspirations early on with its layered characters, subtle verbal clues and Hitchcock-style red herrings. Before dawn breaks, the screenplay has some jarring reverses and revelations in store, especially when a flashback brings the timely themes of body-shaming and bullying on social media into play, shaking up the power dynamic between the four protagonists. More than one secret plan comes to light, more than one treacherous deception and more than one killer. Predators become prey as the lake’s grisly history seems poised to repeat itself.

Lake Bodom is peppered with visual quotes and fan-friendly homages to vintage teens-in-peril movies like Carrie, Friday the 13th, Wolf Creek and more. But Mustonen always remembers his obligation to thrill and disturb, never surrendering to self-referential genre spoof in the Scream vein. There is certainly nothing tongue-in-cheek about an adrenaline-pumped finale that includes a bone-crunching showdown between two psycho-killers, a white-knuckle car chase and a creepy jump-cut close-up montage of visceral horror.

More guilty pleasure than game-changing reboot, Lake Bodom is not a subversive reinvention of slasher-movie rules, but at least it gives the formula a punchy and inventive workout. Two strong narrative twists within a crisp 90 minutes is pretty good going, even if the final crescendo of carnage lacks the last-minute sting some may be expecting. The overall tech package is a cut above most genre efforts, especially Daniel Lindholm’s cinematography, which finds room for painterly vistas of the mist-shrouded lake and striking high-altitude aerial shots of blazing autumnal forests. Panu Aaltio’s percussive, slithering, eruptive score also is a fitting complement to the sense-jarring events onscreen.

Venue: BFI London Film Festival
Production company: Don Films
Cast: Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mikael Gabriel, Mimosa Willamo, Santeri Helinheimo Mantayla
Director: Taneli Mustonen,
Screenwriters: Taneli Mustonen, Aleksui Hyvarinen
Producer: Aleksi Hyvarinen
Cinematographer: Daniel Lindholm
Editor: Aleksi Raij
Music: Panu Aaltio

Sales company: Film Constellation, London

Not rated, 90 minutes