Lake Nowhere: Drowning in Nostalgia, by Chase Beck
A group of 20-somethings, expecting a fun weekend of debauchery, venture out into the isolated wilderness, stay in a creepy cabin and, while there, encounter unspeakable evil. Does this all sound a little familiar? This trope is so common and repeated that it was even parodied in Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods, itself heavily inspired by Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, a film that, while not necessarily inventing the concept of horrific events centered around an isolated residence in the middle of nowhere (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead), certainly popularised it. However, in this case, the reason the story is so similar is that directors Christopher Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy’s film “Lake Nowhere” is an homage to those films as well as early ‘80’s horror in general.
I imagine that, for nostalgic horror fans, “Lake Nowhere” is fun and exciting. Also, at a mere fifty minutes, it’s technically a short film and does not require a huge time investment. The length also works for the film in that it keeps the suspension level high and has very few moments without action of some kind. This quick pacing and efficient editing kept the film at a sprinter’s pace. In my opinion, this alone shows the filmmakers competence in presenting the material. Visually, it captures the look and feel of watching an old ‘80’s VHS tape, perhaps a dusty, long-forgotten, unlabelled cassette that fell behind the TV. It even has clips of previous shows that have been partially recorded over.
However, filmmakers honoring past filmic styles and story elements through an homage is nothing new, Grindhouse (including Tarantino’s Deathproof, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, and a slew of mock trailers by various directors), Abram’s Super 8 and The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things immediately come to mind as does Ti West’s suspenseful horror perfection House of the Devil. While West deliberately used filming techniques that have since gone out of style, Directors Christopher Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy seem to have instead purposefully degraded the video and audio of “Lake Nowhere” to make it seem simultaneously pulled from a literal grindhouse theater while also illegally recorded on a VHS cassette that had been used many times previously. While Phelps and Van Scoy also stylistically imitated the horror film styles and story elements of late-’70’s/early ’80’s film classics, it is the visual degradation of the presented film that sets the tone and, in my opinion, overshadows the story and cinematography. While perfectly executed, the visual degradation takes center stage and distracts from the action onscreen, to the detriment of the film. I feel as if the superficial degrading, effective as it was, is a cheaper way of tugging at the nostalgia driven regions of our brains than actually writing a story with nostalgic elements.
Looking beyond the visual acrobatics, the story is quite simple and direct, as befits a film of this length. Phelps and Van Scoy seem to enjoy a little bit of bait a switch concerning who will live and who will die, an element that I do not feel gets played with nearly enough in most horror films. It is difficult to criticize story and special effects in a movie that is intended to look and feel dated. That is one of the drawbacks to critiquing a film that is purposefully bad or imitative. I did enjoy the fake commercials, the retro interstitial titles and the included trailers and would love to the a full version of their trailer for the Lovecraft-influenced Harvest Man. While the film as a whole is excellently executed, it does make me wonder how Phelps and Van Scoy would have handled a film that was less devoted to replicating previous films and was more interested in having a unique and original influence. Unfortunately, while fun, “Lake Nowhere” does not transcend the limits placed upon it by the directors.
All in all, I can recommend this for those of you out there who feel you have watched all of the great (and terrible) horror films from the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s and are looking for something similar but still new to you. Also, this film is a great substitute if you just cannot stand modern horror films and want that old, independent feel.