When you are running down the list of classic horror movie monsters I am pretty sure that mermaids would never come up. As a general rule in modern day media these mystical mythical sea creatures seem to be associated with fairy tales and fables and always in a positive light.
In fact if you mentioned mermaids to most people the first image that would spring to their minds would either be Ariel or some other Disney-esque child friendly version complete with long flowing hair, well positioned shell bra, a fabulous fantastic fish tail and a gentle girly smile.
Why is this though? The idea of a half woman half fish is not a pleasant one (especially if the mix is done the opposite way round to usual!) Mermaids have appeared in stories for centuries across Near East, Europe, Asia, and Africa and in many cultures they were associated with catastrophic events like floods, storms, shipwrecks and drownings. Their link to the death dealing Sirens of Greek mythology is clear and in fact Hans Christian Andersen’s original telling of the Little Mermaid tale is tragic and tortuous so why aren’t these monstrous beings more associated with horror?
One person trying to redress the balance is Russian director Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy known for Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite and The Bride whose latest release The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead attempts to eradicate the beautiful and benevolent image we all have for something far nastier and nightmarish.
Opening with a little girl’s voice over telling us a spooky tale of the legend of the mermaid we learn that this warped water dweller seduces men claiming them with a kiss and not letting go until they deliver the thing they love the most to a watery grave in return for their release.
Cut to present day and young couple Roma and Marina (played by the distractingly youthful looking Efim Petrunin and Viktoriya Agalakova) are planning their life together getting set to get married and live happily ever after.
None of this can happen however before Roma heads off to his recently inherited lake house for a bachelor party. Unwilling to take part in the raunchy festivities his friends have planned he heads out alone for a swim where he meets a mysterious blonde girl who knocks him unconscious with a kiss leaving him lying on the jetty all night.
After this strange and sinister event Roma become increasingly sicker. Feverish and weak he sees the pale fabled figure from the lake everywhere he goes constantly questioning his love for her and leading his family and friends to worry and wonder what is going on. Only Marina sees the truth and the danger her fiancé is in and she is determined to do anything to stop the malicious mermaid before she can take her human prize forever.
Although the concept is an interesting one the main issue straight away with this movie was that the version I saw was dubbed meaning it was very hard to connect with the characters or truly judge the actors performances. This distance increased as the film progressed with the plot become more predictable and the initial innovative idea becoming lost in a generic horror storyline.
Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy delivers some decent effects but overall the pacing is slow and the tension nowhere near taught enough. The scares simply don’t pack enough power making the film feel far more lightweight than it should and come the climax I was as unmoved as when the movie had started.
Perhaps with the original dialogue and subtitles The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead evokes more of the terror and dread it obviously attempted to achieve and the characters are more engaging however I couldn’t help but feel it was a wasted opportunity to delve into a darker version of the well-known creature.
Hopefully this film will inspire more gruesome and ghastly make-overs for the mermaid in films to come so horror can reclaim one of the monsters it has seemingly lost to the boring benign mainstream media.