30th Oct2017

‘House by the Lake’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: James Callis, Anne Dudek, Amiah Miller, Natasha Bassett, Michael Bowen | Written by Josh Burnell | Directed by Adam Gierasch

house-lake-poster

Despite his output being less than prolific, I’ve been a huge fan of director Adam Gierasch for years – ever since I saw Autopsy and his stellar remake of Night of the Demons (one of the “good” remakes, even though the original is a stone-cold classic). House by the Lake is only his third feature since those films, though he was a part of the portmanteau Tales of Halloween in 2015. Surprisingly, unlike the rest of his oeuvre this film is the first Gierasch has directed that he hasn’t written – and it shows. House by the Lake is unlike any of his other films; feeling very much like a low-budget family drama instead of the usual balls to the wall horror Gierasch is associated with.

Scott and Karen pack up their autistic young daughter Emma and head to a picturesque lake house to give Emma a new change of pace, to reconnect and put their problems behind them. As Emma spends time with her new nanny, the little girl begins fixating on an imaginary friend she calls the Fish Man. Karen’s fear of the strange man down the beach, Emma’s fear of the water and her recurring sleepwalking continue to raise tensions in the house and drive a wedge between Scott and Karen until one night Emma disappears.

Ok, let’s be clear, House by the Lake is the very definition of a slow-burner. For the most part the film plays out like one of those 90s erotic thriller, but a tamer, made for TV version: you have the couple whose relationship is strained by the demands placed on them by their autistic daughter; a young, good-looking, new nanny entering the picture – you get the drift. However in this case you also have strange puddles of water appearing inside the house, at the front door, under Emma’s bed… And this is where the mystery lies. For almost the films entire runtime the audience is teased as to what might be happening. Is it Emma’s sleepwalking? Is it the creepy guy that lives on the lake? Or is it something else?

If those questions offer the mystery, the horror of this film comes from the growing sense of foreboding and overall tension, brought on in part by Emma’s increasingly odd behaviour and by the fragility of the familial relationship. Things come to a head when Emma goes missing, later found breathing underwater in the hot tub(!). The family unit breaks down, with Karen’s insecurity over Emma’s nanny reaching breaking point and Scott feeling unable to keep his family together and at the titular house. Though given the madcap end to the film, staying at this house by the lake might have been a REALLY bad idea!

You see, we spend over an hour watching this family drama unfold for the film to then turn on a dime and unleash the true horror of the House by the Lake, in a climax that plays out like Children of the Corn (or in this case lake) meets Spawn of the Slithis, by way of Humanoids from the Deep! Its a completely insane ending to a film that, for most of the time, feels like a Lifetime-esque movie of the week rather than a horror film.

A strange mix of genre tropes, House by the Lake does, ultimately, pay off the audiences investment with the off-the-wall conclusion. Yes, it might only be brief but at least, finally, there is some real “horror” in this horror movie.

House by the Lake is out now on DVD and VOD from Random Media.

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