| July 28, 2020
As depicted in Sam Raimi’s grisly and jocular Evil Dead series, Tommy Wirkola’s self-aware zombie-isolation flick Dead Snow, and Drew Goddard’s sardonically brutal The Cabin in the Woods, a group of friends spending a weekend at an isolated cabin is never an ideal situation. But, just because the characters are reckless does not mean the audience wants them to be shred to pieces. Then again, half the fun of a movie like this is that evil unleashes its unholy glory.
Enter Bruce Wemple’s Lake Artifact, a sci-fi horror film that’s surprisingly limited on gore, instead of hinging on a Twilight Zone-esque enigma. The film kindles the crux of mystery early on, opening with a double prologue. In the first prologue, one man stalks another through the woods near upstate New York’s primordial Paradox Lake. The stalker sneaks up behind his prey and strikes him to death with a crowbar while filming the entire murder.
Cut to present-day, as an unseen film crew interviews a handful of people about the rumors that an arcane cult, The Hand of God, has nestled at the lake. Town councilman Brian Leverman (Ben Hauck) and executive director Debra Keller (Sheila Ball) adamantly denounce the rumors, while cult historian Dr. Albert Clarkson (Rick Montgomery Jr.) believes them. Dr. Clarkson spoon-feeds the audience exposition, but he is a cult historian after all.
“…Thomas and Tommy knock out an elderly man who claims to be Kip…”
We then begin following Megan (Anna Shields), Grace (Catharine Daddario), Kip (Chris Cimperman), and Tommy (Thomas Brazzle). The four friends decide to get away from it all and travel to a remote cabin at Lake Paradox. But their car breaks down en route, and they meet a devilishly handsome Thomas (Dylan Grunn), who not only is knowledgable about cars but is schlepping around a case of Genny Cream Ale. Thomas gets their car running again, and everyone but Tommy is persistent in asking him to join them on a weekend of unchecked fun. The stranger ultimately gives in.
As expected, the frivolity morphs into horror, as a picture of the group mysteriously shows up. Nobody remembers taking the photo, and the bizarre fact remains that all of them are in the photo, so who took it? Kip has not returned from a beer run, leaving his girlfriend Megan on edge. Another photograph turns up, this one with an eerie figure lurking in the background. Whilst investigating outside, Thomas and Tommy knock out an elderly man (John Willoughby Noble) who claims to be Kip. Suffice to say, things get extremely weird.
Bruce Wemple’s Lake Artifact is an ambitious work of warped sci-fi that features a strong cast. Unfortunately, the film neglects answers to numerous plot threads, which would’ve been fine if the ambiguity felt earned, but Wemple doesn’t fulfill what he temptingly established. There are stylistic choices at odds with each other, which may be deliberate, but the clashing throws the viewer off. The film occasionally switches between the friends at the cabin and the interviews with the film crew. No matter how you look at it, the interview segments, despite adding another layer of mystery surrounding the esoteric cult, disrupts the chief storyline with the teenagers.