Neverlake Review

Posted: July 18, 2014 in Horror, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

NeverlakeThe horror at the center of Neverlake is genuine. The danger in the dark (figurative, not literal) that lurks throughout the majority of the movie until its reveal in the third act springs from one of our most primal fears. The foundation is present for the film to be an effective horror movie, a modern version of a terrible fairy tale in which children are abandoned or abused by those most responsible for their well being. Unfortunately, the filmmakers bungle the opportunity at certain crucial plot points and sink the central scare within a nonsensical subplot. The end result is frustrating rather than infuriating as we are left with a second-rate flick that is beautifully shot on location in Tuscany with a competent cast that is reduced to following a too-familiar formula all the way to a predictable ending.

Jenny (Daisy Keeping)  is a British teenager going to a boarding school in New York who is inexplicably summoned to Italy in the course of the school year by her father (David Brandon) with whom she has had scant contact since being sent away to live with an aunt after the death of her mother. That’s TMI – all we really need to know is dead mom and distant dad. Dr. Dad, a former surgeon who has quit the medical profession to devote himself full time to a study of the Etruscans, lives in the woods of Tuscany near the Lake of the Idols with his assistant, Olga (Joy Tanner), whose primary household responsibilities include locking doors and looking sexy. One day, Jenny is walking by the lake where she encounters a young blind girl, who takes her back to a hospital where she meets four other disabled children.

After this introduction, which is done in a workmanlike fashion, we are left with the three questions that Jenny needs answered by the end of the movie:

— What’s the deal with the kids?

— What are Dad and Olga up to behind the locked doors?

— How did Mom die?

To the film’s credit, each of these questions is reasonably answered. The problem is that the horror inherent in each answer is diluted by the subplot surrounding the Etruscan relics Dad collects and their rightful place in the Lake of Idols. It’s a silly distraction that doubles as a creaky plot device to motivate Jenny at certain points. Additionally, the film stumbles through certain segues. We see Jenny with the kids and then there’s an abrupt cut to Jenny waking up in a hospital bed, which is bewildering for her and the viewer.

At its best moments in the early going, Neverlake feels like a bit of a throwback to British horror of the early 1960’s, specifically The Innocents. Creepy kids were a key British export of that era with other films like Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned, and there’s an appealing oddness to the set-up when Jenny first encounters the children. Keeping is good in the central role. She can play the ingenue well, and although some of her dialogue is stiff and unnatural, a British accent falls more softly on American ears.

Perhaps, it’s best to look at Neverlake as a starter set of scares for 12-15 year olds, a first horror movie for young teens to see on their own. Older viewers are likely to squirm in their seats from restlessness rather than fear.

Two stars.

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