Director: Chris Majors
Writer: Meredith Majors
Producer: Meredith Majors, Chris Majors, James Morales
Stars: Meredith Majors, Betsy Baker, Anne Leigh Cooper, Al Snow, Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Ghigliotti
A young widow moves into an abandoned lakefront home and unravels the mystery of its previous owner’s disappearance.
Spend enough time soaking up the indie horror scene, whether as writer or watcher, and you learn to discern between its various levels. Sure, multimillion-dollar releases, midrange made-for-cablers, and straight-to-video orphans produced on chump change are easily distinguished. Sooner or later, you start seeing subtleties within those tiers. For example, there are movies whose aesthetics better suit them for a festival circuit over a theatrical tour. Breaking that down further, there is then a difference between festival films fitting for prestige venues like Sundance and those that will never break higher than Dr. Creepozoid Presents Panorama City’s Chillerama Fear Fest.
Budget isn’t an exclusive factor here, although production value is of course the greatest determiner. Tone, content, and intent are other crucial helixes in the DNA of a film’s final feel.
When I began publishing genre movie reviews, one of my initial ideas was that any film was fair game. To a certain degree, that holds mostly true. Yet at that earlier time, I was driven by a desire to report on every new release possible, no matter how limited. In fact, the more limited the better, as I could fill holes in horror film criticism by covering micro-movies no one else bothered with.
Eventually, I came to conclude that reviewing homegrown amateur efforts was not only practically pointless, it was also perhaps unfair. Pointless because such dreck is so irrelevant that after it vanishes from New Release listings, no one thinks of it again and the critic is caught with a review no one will read again, either. Unfair because maybe there is no lasting harm in these tinier films existing inside a delusional bubble where friends and family post fake Amazon reviews and pad IMDB with perfect 10 ratings.
As I learned about these sad worlds of distribution, marketing, self-promotion, etc. spinning behind lo-fi indie horror, I was initially offended by this insincere slice of the scene. I entertained ideas such as publicly outing sham festivals, the Podunk ones where anyone willing to spend one minute on Google can connect award “winners” and spotlight screenings to a filmmaker’s friendship with a festival founder.
Then I realized, no one cares. This subsection of microbudget DIY movies is so far off the radar and insignificant, we may as well let them have their fiefdom of shill reviews on fly-by-night blogs and red carpet premieres at events no one has heard of. They have such little impact on the world of horror as a whole that little of it ever reaches the rest of us anyway.
I’ve managed to make most of this review all about me instead of the movie at hand to make a point. That point is “Lake Eerie” is immediately recognizable as a micro-movie not meant for more mainstream criticism. Consider its cast of unknowns, the backyard look of nearly nonexistent lighting shot on a consumer camera, and a poorly Photoshopped poster, and it is crystal clear that “Lake Eerie” is not a professional-grade feature. And this overlong preamble is intended to preface the apology at the end for issuing a reality check to a movie I know is better off without attention drawn to it.
I chose to ignore the fire alarm klaxon of the film style in store because I grew up in Ohio where summer vacations were spent on Lake Erie. “Lake Eerie” takes place in Michigan, but I was curious to see a horror film with a Midwest flavor set in a familiar location and crossed my fingers against better judgment.
Oddly enough, the lake has next to nothing to do with the plot. “Lake Eerie” concerns widowed artist Kate, who moves into an old home formerly owned by a globetrotting archaeologist. Said archaeologist died or disappeared under strange circumstances, and Kate’s discovery of his journal opens the door on a mystery involving a pharaoh’s curse, a portal to a parallel dimension, and haunting nightmares causing Kate to question her sanity.
That sounds more interesting than it actually is. While the Egyptology angle is cool, even ambitious when a simpler haunted house story would arrive at the same place, everything else is a cluster of clichés seemingly stemming from a notion of, “this is what should be included in a horror movie, right?”
Creeping around in candlelight. An old record player crackling. Bloody gunk coming out of a shower head. A handheld camera ambling toward the heroine from behind. A little girl with a cryptic warning. Waking from a nightmare in a sudden gasp.
Anything in the previous paragraph sound inventive? Even stunt casting Lance Henriksen to have a familiar face onboard has become such a tired tactic as to be formulaic. Though I suppose congratulations are in order since Henriksen won the 2015 Horrorhound Film Fest’s Best Actor award for his six minutes of screentime. I won’t even wink when I say I’m sure it had nothing to do with being the most notable name among nominees.
Most scenes amount to nothing of value. Encounters Kate has with rude deliverymen and electricians apparently unconcerned with negative Yelp reviews are chief among “why is this here?” inclusions. And one guess is as good as any regarding why there is a man in a pig nose and an eye patch wandering a purgatory purportedly based on Egyptian mythology.
Contrary to what “meh” or “bah” attitudes in previous reviews may suggest, I don’t watch movies I think I won’t like just to deliberately bash them, though second thoughts aren’t necessarily given to negative reviews of an Asylum or Blumhouse release. The big boys can take it, are used to it, and don’t care anyway. But there is more caution when criticizing films at the low-budget level of “Lake Eerie,” where carelessness, casualness, or bottom line as top priority are not the issue. Ambition exceeding capability is. And there is no satisfaction to be had in telling this one like it is.
Something not in doubt is that the people behind “Lake Eerie” have nothing but pure passion for their project, and every ounce of their blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul is onscreen. Sad fact of the matter is, none of those nouns are substitutes for talent, ability, creativity, or quality.
One star out of four is a bone throw for honest intentions. Look at enthusiastic social media posts, excited crowdfunding updates, and ear-to-ear grins of cast and crew in photos. These people are ecstatic to be on the scene and hungry for success. That their end product doesn’t come close to getting there is cause for sympathetic sadness, not celebratory cynicism. Because unfortunately, this is the best effort that could be mustered, and that effort doesn’t result in anything worth watching at all.
Review Score: 25