An intriguing but flawed indie
“Have you heard of the game detective? It’s called Painkiller. My name is Lea Fisher. All my friends are dead.”
And so begins this Austrian-set supernatural mystery. Based in the town of St. Michael, the aforementioned game is the catalyst for a series of murders that are taking place, and as befits the genre, there is a dark menace lurking within the people who have dared to play it.
The setup is certainly intriguing although the film isn’t entirely successful. It begins with a police interview with Lea, a young teenage girl, who is the sole survivor of a fire at an abandoned building. As the film jumps forward in time 30 years, we see more of this interview via a dusty old videotape. We learn that she and her friends played the ‘Painkiller’ game and that it is host to a shadowy being known as Alpha.
What follows is occasionally interesting but the film often loses sight of plot logic, which can make for a frustrating experience at times. As we flash forward into the future after Lea’s police interview, we meet her again, only now she is blind and the mother of Tamara, a police detective.
Another character, Lukas, is introduced to the plot and like Tamara, he also works for the police department. The majority of the film focuses on this pair as they try to work out who or what is behind the murders that are taking place around them. They begin to learn more about the game Lea played and as they investigate, they begin to understand a little more about the mythology that has stemmed from it.
Many films have featured the consequences of playing a deadly game. Ouija, Truth or Dare, and Would You Rather are just a few, and The Darker The Lake can now be added to that list. However, the plotting is convoluted and the flashbacks (and flashforwards) are quite distracting, so it’s not as good as many of the films that have come before it.
Still, while there are problems with the film’s narrative, the Austrian setting is a nice backdrop. The story may be dark and murky but the wintry landscapes add some atmospheric chill to the proceedings. The lake of the title is impressive, although confusingly, it isn’t particularly dark.
Thanks to the mournful music score, the film sometimes has a melancholy feel, which sits well with the setting of a town torn apart by murders. And the special effects, though sparse, are reasonably well done.
There are lots of positives then but I have a feeling that there is a better version of this film elsewhere. Characters sometimes mention events that we don’t actually see so I suspect some scenes have been edited out of the final cut. And as the film seems to hop from one scene to the next quite randomly at times, there is further evidence of overediting. I might be wrong, of course, but I am trying to give the filmmaker’s the benefit of the doubt here.
It’s hard to be fully invested in the film as the questions it dangles like a carrot to draw us in are often bereft of answers. We know that Alpha is behind the deaths in the town, but we never quite understand who this shadowy being is, beyond the smoke effects and whispering voices that indicate his/its presence.
We also know that there is more to the mystery than this dark force as we learn of a series of watches that seem to drive people a little crazy. There is also the suggestion that it is the power of a person’s belief in mythology that can make them do strange things. What is the answer? Well, it’s hard to tell as the film’s ending is incomplete, perhaps because a sequel is planned.
Will you enjoy this film? Well, it depends. It’s far from perfect but there is some entertainment value to be gained from the sometimes silly dialogue and overall plot premise. However, if you are looking for something with a logical narrative and characters that you can fully invest in, you might be more than a little disappointed.
This isn’t a film that deserves to be thrown into the bottom of the lake, never to be seen again. But there are other films in this genre that are better and that have more satisfying endings. Take the plunge if you notice it online but be prepared for an occasionally enjoyable but often baffling experience.
Verdict - 4/10