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Thursday, April 9, 2009

SAM'S LAKE -- DVD review by porfle

"Lame title", I thought as I started watching SAM'S LAKE (2005). Before long, I was also thinking, "Lame movie." Now that I've seen it, though, the title isn't so lame, and the movie only wants you to think it's lame. For awhile, anyway.

At first, this looks like nothing more than the latest dip out of that communal spring where hack writers seem to draw the same old by-the-numbers story over and over again. A group of twenty-something friends from the city decide to spend a few days in Sam's (Fay Masterson) secluded family cabin, run into some creepy locals on the way, and find out that there's supposed to be a psycho killer running loose in the woods. Not only does this stuff write itself, it's already been written a couple of thousand times before.

Strangely enough, this is about the most boring bunch ever to inhabit this sort of flick. Not once does the gay guy, Dominik (Salvatore Antonio), snap his fingers and say "You go, girl!" The black guy, Franklin (Stephen Bishop--no, not the singer), isn't one of those hip-hop gangsta types who only hangs out with white people for some reason. He doesn't even say "Yo." And the girls--Sam, Kate (Sandrine Holt), and Melanie (Megan Fahlenbock)--aren't sluts! What the hell? This is such a tame bunch that they don't even get drunk and yell "Par-tay!" at the forest animals.

Mostly they sit around the campfire telling scary stories (Sam tells a doozy about a kid who escapes from a mental institution, finds his way home, and kills his whole family), or gaze at the stars and have intimate conversations. Even when Sam's old local-boy friend Jesse (William Gregory Lee) shows up, he turns out to be a sensitive soul who goes all moony-eyed for Kate. The performances are restrained, to say the least, the dialogue is distinctly unmemorable, and the film itself is so low-key that it might even be called the first Zen slasher flick.

I figured writer-director Andrew C. Erin had to be up to something here. There's a fairly atmospheric opening flashback where we see the events that inspired Sam's campfire tale, but after that we mainly get a few of those little "gotchas" where a mysterious figure scoots past the camera real quick to make us jump. And scenery--lots and lots of pretty scenery. It's actually sorta relaxing, like one of those video fireplaces but with occasional murders.

Things get a tad more interesting when Sam insists that the group make a nocturnal field trip to the boarded-up house where the boy in her story is supposed to have murdered his family. After some semi-scary stuff happens, they hightail it back to the cabin with a book Franklin found in a hole in the wall. The book turns out to be the boy's journal.

It's at this point, when Dominik reads the strange journal to the rest of the group, that SAM'S LAKE pulls the old dipsy-doodle on us. I realize that a lot of you smarties out there probably will have already figured it out, but it took me completely by surprise even though I thought I already had it figured out. It's such a cool twist that, suddenly, I loved this movie! Well, maybe not "love", but definitely a kind of fond acceptance. All of the movie's previous lameness suddenly made sense--it was just lulling us into a false sense of "suck" in order to set us up for the grand "WTF?" moment.

I haven't seen the trailer for this (I watched a screener, so no extras) so I don't know how much it gives away. But I'm not going to spoil anything for you. I will say that after this point--which occurs about two-thirds of the way in--the movie gets a lot more fun. I don't want to build it up too much, because it still isn't that great. It's not all that scary, and gorehounds will be disappointed. But compared to where I originally thought this movie was going (like, nowhere), the final third of SAM'S LAKE is a bit of a hoot.

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