Directed by: Lee Thongkham, Aqing Xu
Written by: Lee Thongkham
Starring: Sushar Manaying, Xu Qian, Zang Jinsheng, Palita Chueasawathee, Su Jack, Wanmai Chatborirak
Creature features are one of my favourite subgenres of horror: I grew up watching films like The Relic, The Faculty and Deep Rising, so you can imagine how excited I was to see Lee Thongkham and Aqing Xu's, The Lake. And so you might also be able to imagine how utterly disappointed I was to have given it a frustratingly bad 2-star rating when I finally did get to watch it at Grimmfest. And know that I take no pleasure in saying this, but the whole time I was watching The Lake, it had me wishing that I was watching anything else.
In the film, a creature emerges from the Mekong river and attacks the nearby town of Bueng Kan in Thailand, killing scores of people and cutting it off from the outside world. We then follow several groups of people as they fight to survive, escape or capture the creature.
The issue which presents itself almost immediately is the director's overgenerous showing of the creatures: one we see within the first 5 minutes of the film, the other in the first 20 minutes. Now, the creatures themselves are really very good. In fact, the creature design stands out as the one genuinely good aspect of the film. The CGI is solid for the most part and does a good job of showing the sheer size of the bigger creature, while the practical effects – used primarily on the smaller creature – are incredibly good overall. Looking like an aquatic version of Sammael from Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy, The Lake, at least visually, takes on a Lovecraftian aesthetic. Unfortunately, the filmmaker's decision to so unreservedly present the creatures to the viewer as early as they do results in a complete lack of tension.
Bong Joon Ho did something very similar with his film, The Host. However, he succeeded by having a concise narrative, in which there are well-written and interesting characters whose plight is compelling to the viewer. But that's not what we're left with here. What I mentioned earlier is about as much of the story as you're going to get. Nothing much is explained or explored when it comes to the creature's origin, and if it is, it's lost amongst the appalling shambles that is the narrative structure. Moreover, the characters are exceptionally dull and their dialogue is forgettable; there's no standout performances here, and no emotional connection to any of them. Having said that, the performances are fine and the actors do what they can, but there's just nothing for them to work with here.
The Lake is a terribly disappointing little endeavour. It's clear that Thongkham and Xu were trying to pay homage to some of the classic monster movies; The Host, Godzilla and Cloverfield have all influenced The Lake in some way or another. However, I think that's also the problem. There's a distinct lack of focus or purpose here, and the film, more concerned with paying tribute to past films, has no identity of its own. Thai cinema has a long history of great films, unfortunately, The Lake isn't one of them.