While it’s nice to see another Russian horror movie getting some attention, the somewhat clunkily titled The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is in many ways little more than a long check-list of horror movie tropes.
Creeping up behind a character that’s facing away from the camera, the sloooooow turn and reveal? Check! Jumpscares consisting of random loud noises for no reason? CheckCheck! Blatant foreshadowing applied with all the subtlety of a brick to the head? CheckCheckCHECK. Terrible, terrible CGI monsters? Oh god. Check. Fake out ending? Yup. Check that too. It’s almost a surprise when these movies actually end when they appear to (see As Above, So Below for a good example).
But you know what? It’s not all bad. Before delving too deep into things, however, let’s back it up and look at the plot. The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is based on the legend of the “Rusalka” a creature that lives in lakes/rivers and drags young men to their deaths in the water, either by using their hair to drag them under or by (seriously) tickling them till they drown. Enter our titular Mermaid (who actually has nothing whatsoever in common with Mermaids except for the whole living in water thing) who really wants men to love her so she can drag them off and drown them. Those who spurn her affections will find all they love taken from them and will likely be driven mad.
Enter our main characters in the form of Roma, a swimmer, his girlfriend Marina who can’t swim and hates the water, Roma’s best friend Ilya, and Roma’s sister Olga, who all visit Roma’s father’s old house, which just so happens to be set right beside the lake in which his mother drowned. Soon supernatural water-based shenanigans are going on, Roma has a thing for a lady who’s wet in all the wrong ways, and everyone around him is now a potential victim as he plays hard to get.
The film works best when the Mermaid is shown in her human form, or only in brief flashes, because when she is fully exposed it becomes painfully obvious that whatever their budget, it simply wasn’t enough for decent CGI. The monster form is painfully plastic-looking and fake and that’s a real shame because some of the other effects are really nicely done. In one scene a character approaches a mirror that’s all faded and dusty and just as she gets close there’s a brief shot of a woman’s face fading out of sight in one corner. There is also another really effective jumpscare involving that most terrifying of household items… a blanket. Fair play, movie. Did NOT see that one coming.
The film is available in Russian with English subtitles or an English dub. The dub is a near word for word recitation of the subtitles and that’s not entirely a good thing. It’s difficult to tell, not being a Russian speaker, if the fault is with the script or the translation, but there’s no nuance in the dialogue at all. It’s very simplistic, very “I feel this. I am now doing this. Oh dear, the monster has eaten his face” – that kind of thing.
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The characters are mostly okay, given decent time to let the audience get to know them. Ilya, especially in the dub, comes across as aggressive and a bit bullying but again it’s difficult to tell if this is down to the voice actor they’ve used or if that’s how he’s meant to be. Marina is a bit of an odd one in that the beginning of the movie is very careful to emphasise her hatred for water and how she can’t swim but it barely matters in the actual story at all. Chekhov would be standing, shaking his head and tutting very loudly about this.
All in all, The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is a decent enough film, with some good scares, decent tension and even one laugh out loud moment, but it isn’t one that’s likely to linger too long in the minds of the audience. A fine way to pass 90 minutes or so, but don’t feel like you need to rush out to see it.
The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is out now on DVD.