Picked a film somewhat at random from the Severin folk horror box set - only caring that it be one of many films on the set that I haven't seen before - and began watching it this afternoon. My main impression so far is, I feel like I'm watching a ghost story scripted by Agatha Christie and directed by Ingmar Bergman. I'm not enjoying it very much; while one gathers it is a somewhat hard film to see, and that Severin have done a significant thing bringing so lovely a transfer into the world, it's really just not that entertaining to someone who has long given up any pretense of seriously studying cinema.
Lake of the Dead is a 1958 Norwegian film in which a group of friends go to a cabin that may or may not be haunted, or cursed, or so forth. There's a backstory to the place in which a recluse and his sister? lover? both? drowned in the lake, or went missing and were presumed drowned; the brother of one of the members of the party has recently been to the cabin, as well, and is now himself missing. There are a few creepy events - and eventually some death - but mostly the film is filled with people arguing about what everything means, poring over diaries and their impressions of things, trying to understand what transpires: is something supernatural afoot? Is the best explanation psychological, criminal, supernatural, or a combination of all three?
I still have ten minutes to go in the film, before the big reveal, if there's to be one, but whatever that may be, it's a film that feels more work to get through than play, kind of like watching one of those early Bergman's that never excited me that much, but that I forced myself to watch out of a sense of responsibility ("Summer with Monika at the haunted lake"). Perhaps if I had some deep passion for Norwegian ghost stories, or a deeper-than-average interest in the way folktales and legends inform our relationship to place, it would help get me through, but as things are, I eventually just fell asleep and had to re-watch a chunk, which is saying something for a film with such a short runtime (just over an hour and sixteen minutes).
The film does have things going for it - it's gorgeously photographed (in black and white); it's interesting to hear Norwegian being spoken (it sounds very much like Swedish to me, hence the Bergman comparison); and for enthusiasts of SF and horror, there's one kind of neat moment where the filmmakers needed to have an ominous one-legged crow appear at the top of a tree - the same crow that appears on the box art for the set - and rather than handicapping a real crow, they used stop motion, which was kind of a pleasant surprise. It's also kind of interesting, given that the film is shot in the land of the so-called midnight sun, that it never actually gets dark - that night and day look pretty much the same; and because the film looks to have been shot with a Norwegian audience in mind, no one bothers to even remark on this (which meant that it took a minute's thinking for me to sort out what the deal was; initially I thought I was just seeing totally incompetent day-for-night, but I don't think that's the case).
So I wanted to like it, and did take pleasure in some of its images. But part of the problem is that there are more characters than seem necessary for the tale being told - six, not counting ghosts, flashbacks, and incidental characters like police officers; and most of them have Norwegian names - including some relatively unfamiliar ones like Bugge, Mørk, and Bjørn (who is also sometimes called by his family name, Werner). Trying to just keep the characters and story straight ("which one is Bugge? Is he the psychiatrist or the crime writer?") is slightly draining for a non-Norwegian. And I suspect part of the reason there are so many people in the film is simple sexism; the only people with perspectives or ideas are the men, so to have a good argument, there needs to be four of them, plus wives and whatnot to make it a believable vacation. The women aren't exactly just eye-candy, but nor do they participate as equals in the conversation; they're more talked about, than they are talkers, or there for emotive effect, or to have things happen to that the men can then discuss amongst themselves. I'd say at least 40 minutes of the film consists of men arguing. In Norwegian. Can you feel your eyelids growing heavy?
So, uh, cabin in the woods or no, The Evil Dead this ain't. Still, it was a good pick, because my wife is out and she would NEVER be able to make it through a film like this. It also allows me to start off my explorations with nicely low expectations; it's a cinch that whatever film from the set I watch next, I'll enjoy more than this one. Sorry, Severin!