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Friday, October 13, 2017

HOUSE BY THE LAKE -- Movie Review by Porfle

At first it sounded like yet another case of dopey teens being stalked and terrorized while partying in somebody's parents' lakehouse.  But HOUSE BY THE LAKE (2017), to my very pleasant surprise, turned out to be a serious, adult chiller that establishes a foreboding atmosphere and sustains the suspense almost all the way to the end.

Almost, that is, because this is one of those movies that's so good until the very end leaves me wondering how they could've gotten so much right and then--in football parlance--fumbled the ball on the one-yard line.

The set-up is beautifully simple--workaholic Karen (Anne Dudek, SHADOW PEOPLE, 10 ITEMS OR LESS) and failure-at-life Scott (James Callis, "Battlestar Galactica", MERLIN AND THE BOOK OF BEASTS) are a troubled couple hoping that a vacation "away from it all" in his parents' lavish lake house will not only help mend their relationship but also be good for their autistic daughter Emma (Amiah Miller), a painfully introverted girl who can barely stand to be touched.

A vivacious young nanny named Gwen (Natasha Bassett) shows up the next day and immediately hits it off with Emma, who communicates mostly through her crayon drawings.  They're so tight, in fact, that it stirs feelings of jealousy in control-freak Karen, who also fears that Scott is becoming attracted to the younger woman.

What really makes things start to get spooky, however, is the appearance of a creepy old codger (Michael Bowen, KILL BILL VOL.1, THE LOST, DEADGIRL) from out of nowhere who claims to live on the lake and shows what seems to be an unhealthy interest in Emma. 

Karen is greatly concerned, and is mortified when Scott tries to pass it off as nothing.  This, along with Karen's jealousy of Gwen, and Scott's ever-growing feelings of crippling inadequacy, only serves to drive the wedge even deeper between Karen and Scott.

The movie really hits its stride as a chiller with a series of spooky sleepwalking incidents involving Emma, who also begins to talk about her new friend "The Fish Man."  Amiah Miller is the rare scary-movie kid who can not only act but is able to affect a "scary face" without looking silly.

Emma's eventual disappearance causes her parents to take the "Fish Man" stories more seriously and will help drive HOUSE BY THE LAKE into bonafide thriller territory even as we're debating with ourselves over whether or not there's something supernatural at work. 

Director Adam Gierasch (AUTOPSY, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS), working with a clean, no-nonsense style and a fine cast, has a way of building and maintaining suspense along with a genuine sense of dread that keeps us on edge as we wait for the worst to happen.  This anticipation gives the film a compelling quality that teases and scintillates as it reaches its climax.

What actually does happen at the end is, for me, a case of being too literal and showing too much.  After such a subtle and skillful build-up, it's nothing less than jarring.  In my opinion, much more should've been left to the viewer's imagination in a closing sequence that could've been truly haunting but, instead, looks almost like something out of THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS.

I really wanted to give HOUSE BY THE LAKE a glowing review while I was watching it, and indeed had most of the darn thing typed up in my mind when those last few minutes happened.  Maybe an instant-replay would prove me wrong, but despite the rest of the game being a real nail-biter, that last play definitely looked like a fumble to me. 

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