AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD AND DIGITAL: NOW, from HIGH OCTANE PICTURES
RUNNING TIME: 97 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Four satellite technicians – Phil, Mike, Ann and Georgie – are sent into the woods to restart a satellite transmitter that has mysteriously gone offline. They find a crashed airplane and three survivors – Matt, Jack and Alexandria – trapped inside. As tensions within the group grow, time starts to distort, wounds suddenly heal and people start seeing things. Could the cause of this be something inside the nearby lake?….
Landing Lake is an Italian/UK co-production, featuring a British cast but made by an Italian crew, which makes it odd that the 2017 production has yet to be released in the UK. Could it be that it’s just considered to be too poor for viewers in dead old Blighty? I actually doubt that, because far worse cheapie sci-fi/horror films come out all the time, often spending a week or two on the shelves of my local Tesco. The debut outing from writer/director Cesar P. Libardi di K isn’t ll that great either, but I think that undemanding fans of this kind of thing may find enough to enjoy, even though it’s hardly likely to stick in the mind. Of course one is often tempted to be kinder to offerings where the budget is very meagre, especially if you’re like me and am getting increasingly less out of current Hollywood blockbusters which more than ever seem to replay the same formula over and over again and virtually drown in an orgy of CGI. I could be totally wrong here [Cesar, if you ever read this, feel free correct me if you so wish], but I get the impression that Libardi di K. wrote his screenplay but then had to drastically scale it down because he just couldn’t get the money together to do it how he originally envisaged it. It’s full of half-realised ideas, half-realised scenes, half-realised you name it – though Libardi di K. shows a strong enough grasp of edgy atmosphere to still keep things ticking over reasonably well for at least an hour or so.
Essentially it’s been done before, up until an explanation towards the end which – well – I’ll get to that. But mostly what we have here is a combination of a typical Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with a low budget Italian sci-fi/horror ffrom the ’80s [i.e. Shocking Dark, Contamination], with lots of Blair Witch Project-type woods wonderings – in fact come to think of it this film also feels quite a bit like the latter during many passages of its first half even though it’s definitely not Found Footage [so don’t worry, there’s not loads of sick-making wobbly camera footage!]. There are many things that you will have seen before and may even groan at, like the realisation that there’s a force field in front of our protagonists. I mean – come on now! It would have probably been more of a surprise if there wasn’t one. But seeing stuff we’ve previously seen many times can still of course work if the filmmakers take a fresh approach, or are so bloody good at providing the suspense and ramping up the thrills that you’re still riveted to the screen. So how does Libardi di K. score here? Well, as I’ve already said he can certainly do the tense atmosphere very well, and some moments and indeed whole sections do manage to have a genuinely unsettling, even freaky, vibe to them – though this is as much due to the synthesiser score by Corrado Pollacci as it is the director. Pollacci provides musical backing for what seemed to me to be nearly all of the film, meaning that it’s a truly major ingredient in it, and also meaning that the short bits left unscored stand out. In between evoking the likes of Chris Martinez and Claudio Simonettti and even what sounded rather like a riff on bits of Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar during one cue, he provides extremely menacing ambient-like backing and there’s no doubt that the film would be about half less effective without Pollacci’s contribution.
I don’t normally describe the music score to a film, if I think it worthy of note, until towards the end of a review, but never mind. A while back I decided that my reviews were getting stuck in a rather familiar format, so it’s probably good to be a bit different for a change. Anyway, Landing Lake begins extremely effectively indeed with some of that unsettling music playing over the camera taking us on a mini-tour of the main area in which the film’s events take place, sometimes looking up at the trees as it does so. Cut to the face of a woman asleep on her sofa woken up by a knock at the door, and the spell is broken not so much by the change in locale but by the shoddy acting on display. One of course shouldn’t really have a right to expect top quality performing in film like this, even if sometimes a really strong performance will come out of the blue and take you by surprise. And when the people you see on screen are only given things to say of the nature of “this coffee’s shit!”, they can only do so much.We next see Georgie at work looking for somebody named Anna, saying how she’s taken this satellite-repairing job just so she can be promoted, and being mildly bothered by ex-boyfriend Robert coming into her office. Okay, strong characterisation is certainly not something that we have here, but the promotion element actually sets things up for later and will have considerable importance, Georgie being someone who wants to succeed no matter what she has to do. We then meet the teenage Mike and the much older Phil putting him down – and you’d better not mind this, because for at least the next half an hour Phil continually lays into him, and we’re never told why! Maybe it’s because Mike is black? It’s actually kind of funny, even when Phil shows how much he dislikes Mike’s ghetto blaster [oh for the days when it was the done thing to blast out your music!], but I’m not sure it’s intended to be funny.
A lingering shot of Ann popping a pill which seems to be important but isn’t at all [it’s never even referenced], and it’s off to the woods we go. Ann and Mike pal up, but then a plane flies over them to seemingly crash nearby. Georgie doesn’t want to go and help, but nonetheless everyone heads for the crash site and find a dead pilot and three passengers. Georgie glimpsing three people [blink and you miss it] tells us that something strange is afoot if you didn’t already know from the music and sound design, but Alexandria wants to get out of there, Matt is really shaken, and Jack is extremely aggressive – though one has to cheer when he knocks the unpleasant but when it comes down to it rather wimpish Phil to the ground. Too much time is actually taken up with bickering, but you soon get the first of several eerie scenes with a strong flavour to them when Amy sleepwalks away from the tents and Georgie goes to look for Phil who’s disappeared. She sees him, but he walks through a force field and turns to Georgie and waves while she screams at something and the soundtrack is distorted. It may not sound like much from my description, but it really is quite unsettling, while Libardi di K. gets a lot out of just distorting people’s voices throughout. Amidst a growing bond between Georgie and Matt, wounds heal, and people begin to behave increasingly oddly. It’s something to do with the lake, and the film’s title and poster give it away, though not what the undefined ‘visitors’ want to do, which is actually quite unusual and provides a stronger excuse than normal for when mayhem starts to ensure, though I had to reference a synopsis of the film’s plot for certain details, because a character supposed to be explaining stuff had their voice distorted so much that I couldn’t make out what on earth was being said!
One can put the above down to an example of the typical flaws found in micro-budget exercises of this kind, though there’s also lots of very obvious day for night shooting with a rather washed out, muggy green-dominated look to it, something which sadly makes much of the film rather unappealing visually, even it still mines plenty of menace out of the woods around Trentino, Italy. Libardi di K. seems to have gone for practical effects rather than CGI, and that’s probably a good thing seeing how ugly cheap CGI can be. Several melting/decomposing scenes are cut away from in parts but what we do see looks quite good. Elsewhere it’s mainly offscreen grue or us seeing just the aftermath, but you do get moviedom’s second most memorable death by stereo. And, while I’ve already mentioned the acting as being pretty poor, there are a few nicely played moments in the final stages and one particular performance that you can’t help but enjoy. I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad, but As Jack, Phil Zimmerman constantly rants and pulls faces, meaning that he dominates every scene that he’s in and is never less than entertaining to watch. He’s also given a very racist joke to say that, in these ridiculously touchy times, you probably wouldn’t get in a Hollywood production. Hell, the remake of It didn’t even have bullies uttering the word “n******” even though it was in the 1992 version and was being said by nasty kids. I think that, if you’re a thoroughly dislikable [wait till you find out what he does for a living] sort like Jack, you should be able to say dislikable things in addition to doing dislikable things.
Much is left vague in Landing Lake, which isn’t necessarily a problem as fans of filmmakers as different as David Lynch and Lucio Fulci will no doubt agree. But Libardi di K. ‘s film does seem to aim in several directions and never quite hit any of its targets. Some hallucinatory moments suggest that we could be in for an increasingly trippy experience where you maybe don’t know what’s real and what isn’t , but things all but stop going in that direction. Group tensions erupt, but this happens so early on that the impact of this also happening when we know this force from the lake is causing people to act weirdly is considerably lessened, and why do people tend to react to strange going-ons in such a laid-back manner? Maybe this is also due to the kind of possession, but we could have done with some clarification on this. There’s an element of sexuality present, one getting the impression that the force from the lake is beginning to cause people to have their libidos take over, but it’s really muted and one ends up wondering why it’s there in the first place. And so forth. The film doesn’t seem quite finished. And yet I do some talent in Libardi di K going by what he’s given us here. There are times when he achieves quite a lot with very little, and I’d certainly be interested to see what he does next. In the meantime, let’s hope that Landing Lake manages to get a UK release at some point soon