Going on a remote and bucolic holiday can be a risky business if you’re a movie teen feeling the first throws of love and, let’s be honest here, just plain thirsty. Sooner or later, that young and supple flesh will attract the unwanted attention of a hulking masked serial killer, and sure as eggs are eggs, by hook or machete, adolescent blood will be spilt by the gallon. Until one blue-eyed, blonde and always celibate girl is left standing, half-naked and traumatised. It is a gory and titillating premise hacked into the teen slasher genre, which had its heyday in American cinema in the early 1970s with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, ending in the mid-1980s with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. They, and imitators alike grossed billions and billions of dollars at the box office.
The horny teen killing business has proven to be, well, hard to kill, pun intended: groan all you want. And you might groan a little more at Lake Bodom, helmed by Taneli Mustonen; who made a splash with the Finnish comedy Luokkakokous (2015) a remake of the Danish comedy The Reunion (2011). IMDb credits aside, he and co-writer Aleksi Hyvärinen have dropped the belly laughs for a moody take on the now old as dirt teen slasher formula. They have drawn on the real life murders of a group of teenage friends camping at the picturesque Lake Bodom in Finland in 1960. The unlucky foursome were attacked in their tent by a mysterious killer, still unapprehended to this day. The sole survivor, dogged by the crime for forty years was arrested back in 2004 on suspicion of the murders, but all charges where eventually dropped. It is a cold case that has gripped the imagination of the Nordic country for years, spawning a plethora of blood soaked theories…
So, fast-forward to 2016, and the opening scroll of the film lays out that the story we are about to watch is inspired by decades, and decades worth of macabre conjecture surrounding the Lake Bodom murders. Mmm, that sounds like a lot of conflicting ideas to crowbar into eighty five minutes, right…? Yes, it is. After a quick prologue setting up the teen, knife, and camping theme; we meet Elias (Mikael Gabriel) and Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä) in an old beige Volvo 240 Estate car with rap music playing on the radio – Oh, a little side note here; the car and music are touches of nostalgia and modernity sharing the same space, albeit very subtly. This fusing together of the past and the present is something the filmmakers wrestle with throughout the film, often with mixed results. Now, back to the boys, all big grins, having just lured a couple of girls from school into a weekend camping trip. And you’ve guessed it, Lake Bodom is the destination!
The teen slasher is nothing without its leading ladies. Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) the blonde, God-bothering and virginal teen, ticking all the final girl boxes, asks her strict parents if she can go camping. Well, of course she can, bad parenting is timeless. And she is joined by her raven haired and sultry bestie, Nora (Mimosa Willamo). They share a close relationship, maybe a little too close. On the long drive to the lake, a mini-battle of the sexes plays out between Ida and Elias on the differences between how men and women feel about love and lust. Finally, he states “Don’t you want sex.” And she replies “Don’t you want love?”. Nora looks away dark and pensive. The film’s thematic question “What would you do for love?” is laid bare, and unevenly woven into the by the numbers hack and slash story.
At the lake, the boys true motives are revealed, Atte has a hard-on for reconstructing the Lake Bodom murders. Elias has a real hard-on for Ida. And the girls, just want to have fun…? Not really. Ida, still struggling in the aftermath of a nude picture scandal at school, stays quiet and morose. Nora vamps it up, splashing about in the ice cold lake in her bra and knickers. A dark presence stalks the shadowy woodland, as Atte confesses to Ida that he doubts the legitimacy of her full frontal pics floating around on the internet. Then, he’s cut in half. Well, almost, by an unseen brute, and possibly the original Lake Bodom slasher. Now, without going into spoiler-ific detail, the twists and turns of a teenage love triangle gone utterly toxic did get my pulse racing in fits and starts, and had me scratching my head at times. Yes, I know fear can be illogical, paralysing and unexplained. But a malevolent tow truck dragging half-naked teen girls inside a beige Volvo through a forest at night all seemed a bit too surreal given the real life subject matter.
Lake Bodom is not without its merits, composer Panu Aaltio’s score oscillates between 1980’s style synth cords and the sound of bricks in a cement mixer. Fun and effective. And Panu Riikonen’s crunchy sound design gave added heft to the carnage on screen. Overall, Mustonen has marshalled together a finely crafted American-style teen slasher with a European sensibility; beyond the horror and bloodletting is a small and melancholic romance between Ida and Nora. The haunting flashback of their troubled relationship lingered with me, as I pondered my own experience of unrequited love in my adolescence, without doubt it cut deeper than any old rusty hatchet ever could.
Now, I must confess to being a bit of a bonehead when the credits rolled. I wasn’t sure what I had just watched. A contemporary narrative that paralleled the events of the original murders? Or a sequel to an unmade film, chronicling a spited teen’s descent into murderous rage. No, maybe it was… Well, I could go on and on speculating about the murderous events at Lake Bodom like many have before me, but all I know for sure is: as long as horny teens go on holiday, masked killers will chop them up and audiences will always be there to watch.