Mermaid: lake of the Dead Movie Review
Written by Ilan Sheady
Released by Universal Pictures UK
Directed by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy and Christopher Bevins
Written by Natalya Dubovaya, Ivan Kapitonov and Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy
2018, 90 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 22nd July 2019
Viktoriya Agalakova as Marina
Efim Petrunin as Roma Kitaev
Sofia Shidlovskaya as Lisa Grigorieva / The Mermaid
Nikita Elenev as Ilya
Sesil Plezhe as Olga
As an early wedding present Roma (Efim Petrunin) receives a surprise gift from his father (Igor Khripunov) in the form of ownership of the old family house and the lake that it is built on. A gift made all the more surprising as Dad had disappeared and abandoned his kids, Roma and older sister Olga (Sesil Plezhe), 20 years earlier following the tragic death of their mother.
Leaving his fiancé Marina (Marina... get it?) behind he takes a road trip with best friend Ilya (Nikita Elenev) to kill two birds with one stone: investigate the house and celebrate his last days as a bachelor.
During the celebrations Roma sneaks away for a late night swim in the family lake but unbeknownst to him, he isnʼt alone. A mysterious young woman, standing on the lakeside dock, brushing her hair, beckons to him with her singing and after Roma fails to resist a kiss, is hauntingly asked, "do you love me?"
Roma, it transpires, has become the newest target of a malevolent killer mermaid.
Except technically itʼs not a mermaid.
Russia has its fair share of superstitions and folklore which is grossly misrepresented by associating it with mermaids. The original film title is Rusalka: Ozero Myortvykh and though the translation into English is technically correct, the Rusalka, in traditional Slavic folklore is very different and if you were hoping to catch a glimpse of topless girls with strategically draped hair and fish tails for legs youʼll be very disappointed.
A Rusalka is the spirit of a woman who has died unnaturally near a large body of water, forced to haunt it by luring men to a watery death with their beautiful voices. Should the victim somehow resist the Rusalkaʼs charms and refuse to love them then the malevolent spirit will instead take away everyone their victim loves. This puts Mermaid: Lake of the Dead more in line with a ghost movie rather than aquatic creature feature. The problem is the ‘creepy long haired girlʼ, as a fad, has been done to death (pun intended) and Mermaid doesnʼt offer anything to the sub genre that Gothika hadnʼt already done better back in 2003.
This is highly disappointing considering director Svyatoslav Podgaevskiyʼs 2017 festival favourite The Bride (also starring Viktoriya Agalakova and Igor Khripunov) used the unique and haunting image of the titular ‘brideʼ to create a much more memorable concept. While The Bride offers an interesting look at Eastern European storytelling, Mermaid feels more like an attempt at an American movie by borrowing heavily from teen horrors from the early 2000s sprinkled with iconic moments from bigger films like Andy Muschiettiʼs Mama. Alas, Mermaid: Lake of the Dead feels like a more forgettable entry in Russiaʼs cinematic renaissance.
Characters are about as minimalist as they come. You will struggle to define them any deeper than ‘the sisterʼ, ‘the friendʼ, or ‘the fiancéʼ. Marina, the fiancé, in particular is criminally underused. Despite the movieʼs best efforts to convince you otherwise, Marina is not our protagonist nor is she our hero despite Victoriya Agalakova accumulating an international fan base. The plot introduces her as an infantile adolescent who struggles with rudimentary chores and is incapable of swimming. Youʼll be forgiven for thinking this will be a part of her character arc that will pay off at the end, but every part of her personality is painfully insignificant.
Mermaidʼs biggest sin, however, is the same as Corin Hardyʼs The Nun in that the creature has no definable rules. It simply does whatever it needs to in order to either make a scene interesting or to move the plot along. The spirit (Sofia Shidlovskaya) manifests wherever she wants and however she wants making it confusing to differentiate between what is actually happening, what is an illusion and what is a dream sequence. During a swimming tournament Roma teleports out of the swimming pool and into the haunted lake. After being viciously attacked he appears coughing and spluttering at the side of the swimming pool. What happened there? Did he fall asleep? Did he hallucinate everything? What were all the judges seeing while this was happening? The scene ends without any clarification.
Similarly the characters act in ways that will only benefit the antagonist, like refusing to stay in sight of each other, refusing to cry out for help when in earshot and driving their sick friend away from the hospital because they conveniently all agree that the curse is real based on no evidence. Most grievously, absolutely no explanation is offered as to why ‘dear old Dadʼ suddenly reappears in his kids life to give an obviously cursed house to his son.
Despite its flaws Mermaid is an interesting watch. Itʼs a reasonably definitive look into a genuine superstition and I canʼt flaw the perfect filming location and beautiful cinematography. The scares are frequent and eventful and the effects are used sparingly but well. It is highly recommend watching the movie subtitled rather than dubbed, especially if authenticity is your thing, as it helps to solidify that you are in a different culture and wonʼt judge the actors on the bizarre choice of English delivery.
If you are in the mood for a typical ghost story with a slight cultural twist then dive right in, but seasoned horror fans may find this film to be disappointingly shallow.
This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.