Lake Nowhere is a resurrection of the VHS era in horror, from the video nasties to the ‘golden age’ of slasher films throughout the 80’s. Whilst clocking in at just under an hour, the film still manages to evoke memories of finding those terrifying looking VHS tapes, the ones plastered with warning labels and claims of being banned in other places, or almost going ‘too far’. The opening of the film even is complete with mock trailers, capturing the time period they were going for quite perfectly and creating a bit of fun from the get-go. This quite loving retro indie short film, directed by Christopher Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy and written by Christopher Phelps and Ryan Scott Fitzgerald, hits a lot of the right notes to elicit a sense of nostalgia whilst also providing quite an interesting narrative. The film feels like Friday the 13th and Evil Dead, but still manages to keep a sense of originality through it’s black humour and the strange aura that surrounds the lake itself. There’s so much here for both genre fans, and those looking for some nostalgia, to have a great time with.
The visual and sound design of the film is certainly on point throughout, with fantastic throwback instrumental tracks, and some very fun and typical of the genre songs that feature the devil or a weapon. The instrumentals give off a very John Carpenter feel, and most certainly the sound designers took heavy inspiration with his works. It’s all very fun stuff, Lake Nowhere has fun with horror and the era they’ve lovingly recreated. The washed out colours create an atmosphere that is both antiquated and creepy, and the levels they’ve used lend themselves well to creating eerie, lonely and cold environments for the outside shots, but don’t go so far as to deny detail from the visuals. The odd cuts to taped over styled material, which only seem to be aggressive in one scene, provide an unnatural and unnerving flow similar to how VHS used that stylistic element; but also lend themselves to the idea of a bootleg tape. The editing itself, with frequent and uncomfortable cuts and very well produced sound design, lead to some incredibly effective scenes. Notably, after our group of partying young adults hear a long strange noise from the woods and gather together, we see an incredibly well framed Danny (Nathan Andrew Wright) returning, sopping wet and naked, skin pale and starting to go blue, with a terrifyingly vacant expression on his face.
The setup is rather quick, as to be expected from a short film, elements of danger that get the viewer guessing on what horrors will befall our cast are presented one after the other. The ‘swim at own risk’ sign, someone watching Danny skinny dip from the bushes wearing a very creepy mask, an old timey photo with a woman who looks just like Bonnie (Wray Villanova), and a creepy, almost ‘evil incantation’ like inscription on a tombstone. When we see a closeup of this peeping tom, the masked man, the shot is accompanied by heavy breathing, complimented by an instrumental akin to howling wind, an example of the very well crafted sound design. We then see Danny struggling with an unseen force beneath the water, at the same time as the masked man looks on, very early in the film the viewer is presented with the idea of multiple evil forces, evoking tension and mystery in a genre where the killer often acts alone.
As it does with the antagonistic elements at play, the film quickly fulfills the 3 B’s of horror movies that were so important when they were forming their reputation as taboo, boundary breaking and confronting; booze, boobs and blood. There’s everything here for the older generation of horror fans, or those who have taken in some of the VHS era of horror, to find blissful nostalgia with. Even the violence takes on the sort of cadence that the kills within films from the 80s featured heavily, often quite quick, in a dark environment and with bright blood, complete with the occasional janky practical effect (most evidently the neck stump, after a decapitation, a moment of dark humour).
The Masked Maniac (Matthew Howk) has a decently unique design, with a mask that looks like it’s been made out of bark, which gives a wild and mysterious air to the character. Whilst it may not hit all the right places like Jason’s design does, it certainly looks terrifying in the moody lighting. The Maniac’s movements are slow and brutal, akin to Jason and Michael Myers, but when missing shovel thrusts or being run over, and especially when walking up calmly to Clyde (Paul Gagnon) and standing beside him, it highlights the camp acting that’s present throughout the film. The acting from the whole cast, whilst not perfect, does capture that camp aesthetic and even allows for moments of severity and emotion that create some fantastic scenes. It hits comedy and horror where it needs to, never taking itself too seriously but not letting that get in the way of creating an atmosphere of terror.
The final moments of the film pose some questions, linking back to signs and foreshadowing from earlier, however we don’t get concrete answers in any way, however the colder ending does leave interpretation up to the viewer with what they gained from the signs in the film. An interesting way to end, it didn’t feel bad or like they were keeping anything from us despite the lack of explanation in some actions. A twist of sorts, where we find the true evil within the lake itself, comes as a nice followup to the rather comedic subversion of the ‘final girl’ trope present towards the end. From the start of action to the end of the film, Lake Nowhere keeps its foot on the gas, only letting up in the final moments to create a great atmosphere. The final sequences also provide the film’s best examples of imagery, ending on a fantastic high note with beautiful framing, costumes, and some incredibly creepy events paced perfectly. Evoking imagery similar to Goodnight Mommy, this film leaves such a good taste behind.