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The 2013 film, ‘Neverlake’ is a bit of an unusual movie. Made by an Italian crew, in the beautiful Tuscany region of Italy and distributed initially by a German marketing firm. Much of the cast were American actors. A movie with such heterogeneous national origins can traditionally be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, in this case, the international cooperation resulted in a horror film that is significantly better than most of the independent horror I’ve seen in a very long time. Adding to the global eclectic influences of this opus is a distinct feel usually associated with the classic British movie studio that specialized supernaturally based stories; Hammer Studios. Although not affiliated with that reliable source of entertainment in the genre this film had many elements in common, giving it the look and feel of one of Hammer’s many psychological thrillers. Right up front it must be said that this film was a welcome relief for fans of traditional horror such as me. The director, Riccardo Paoletti captures this distinctive style, while bringing the tautly crafted mystery co-authored by screenwriters Manuela Cacciamani and Carlo Longo. Finally, cinematic storytellers that cannot find it necessary to slosh copious quantities of fake blood and entrails elicited through the mindless and excessive use of torture in lieu of any semblance of a plot or attempt at character development. Thankfully, this film possesses a story told through a strong narrative that serves as a venue for the characters to grow, changing in response to the darkly mysterious circumstances.

Jenny Brook (Daisy Keeping) is a 16-year-old American girl making her first trip to Tuscany to visit her father, Dr. James Brook (David Brandon). Jenny’s father has never been a regular part of the life. Although Jenny had been born in Italy, she was sent to live with her grandmother in the States after a mother became seriously ill. An aspect of the production that reminded me of a Hammer’s considerable, catalog of mysterious, supernatural thrillers, the distinctive English accent prominent this American teenager is never quite explained. In those films incongruent accents, even more pronounced when Eastern European character enunciates the dialogue using a well-trained English stage accent. Jenny may be anxious to reconnect with the father she never knew, but he is a busy man most of his attention riveted to ancient Etruscan artifacts that he is classifying and kept locked in his home office. For those who world history classes was scheduled to early for regular attendance the Etruscan society was well known for the reverence of the dead. Extensive subterranean catacombs, the cities of the dead, have been excavated in several areas of Italy. Jenny’s father was initially built renowned surgeon will abandon his practice in order to devote his time towards artifacts of this ancient culture.

Several details or purposely omitted such as the ultimate fate of Jenny’s mother or how a father appears to know many details of her life, including the boy she had a relationship with. The prize of Dr. Brooks’ collection are set of six bronze castings that when brought together represented the parts of the human body. Long ago, they were tossed into the nearby lake. As part of a primordial ritual that presumably expedited the healing of the sick. In a nicely played touch of melodrama, the good doctor became quite irate whenever Jenny inquired about the artifacts locate any reengineer perpetually locked door to his study. Despite the lost beauty of the property, Jenny was unable to garner any enjoyment from her trip. She felt quite isolated and alone until one day while walking around exploring Jenny happened upon an orphanage housing sick children. One of the residences, Olga (Joy Tanner), a girl Sally close to Jenny’s age, provides some of the back story involved in the area and her father’s artifacts. The nearby lake is called by the locals, ‘The Lake of the Idols’ and although the waters of believe the conference healing powers upon the performance of the correct rituals solely is haunted. The spirits that inhabit the lake was disturbed and highly upset that the six bronze parts of the sculpture has been removed from it; it wants his idol back.

I was compelled to watch this film several times. The first viewing permitted me to experience the craftsmanship of the mystery and suspense intrinsically found in the story. During subsequent viewings, I found I was able to better appreciate the directorial style that was executed in the fashion of a classic studio known for this genre. Although the film was made in color the attention paid by the cinematographer, Cesare Danese to the use of shadowing and the juxtaposition of light and dark is usually seen in black and white movies that are able to embrace this media fully. As Jenny becomes increasingly embroiled in the mystery, not only of the spirits down to the lake and their involvement with the bronze castings and her father’s study, but also she discovers a far more personal entanglement of family has with the lake and its legendary powers. A great deal of respect is afforded to the audience that they are able to piece together the subtle clues that are offered. This screenplay is not go heavy handed as it doles out the clues required to solve the mysteries. Much of what is needed to piece together these covert elements of the story are provided by nuances in the performances and by having the audience combined various statements provided by the characters. One such inference that is so light be presented you might not readily appreciate its importance is a reference to Byron Shelley’s stories concerning ‘Lago degli Idoli’, literally, the lake of idols. It is a matter of history as discerned by archaeological examination of the area that some twenty-six hundred years ago, the Etruscans routinely tossed bronze objects into the lake as votive offerings. One thing that is sure to enhance the appeal of a horror film is that even though it depends on supernatural elements there are strong ties to reality present.

A brilliant part of designing this movie was to juxtapose the beautiful Italian countryside with macabre mood generated by the story. Necessary to successfully carry this is a quality of acting that is not commonly found in independent horror films. All of the performances are excellent but the one presented by our leading lady, Ms. Keeping, is exceptional and helps elevate this film from horror to an extremely well-constructed psychological thriller. While there is a modicum of special effects, some of which might be considered gory, the dominant theme is provided to Jenny’s character arc. It takes her from an innocent tourist in a foreign country to reconnect with her father, bringing her to becoming, by necessity, a detective, ferreting obtuse clues despite the sinister and painful secrets about the family the mystery reveals. The overall pacing of the story is excellent, skillfully affording sufficient time for the audience to get to know Jenny and understand the emotional and psychological toll inflicted upon her by unraveling these mysteries. The movie is atmospheric, creating a sinister feeling through the story, but reinforcing it by the expert use of the setting in the showcase it provided with some extraordinary performances. It is little gems such as this that makes the cinephiles’ attachment to independent horror films worthwhile. At last, a movie that eschews the lamentable common trend of gross visual effects in the mindless infliction of pain in order to relate a truly mesmerizing story to the audience. This is the way this type of movie should be done. The filmmakers might be relatively new to their crafts, but they are well on their way to becoming quite influential in the art form.

Posted 07/22/2014

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