Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is an amusingly crazy little Russian horror flick. Watching horror from other countries is always enlightening. Seeing how foreign filmmakers approach familiar ideas and fears emphasizes how common certain things are, but also how different cultural perspectives on them can be. This movie is sort of an evil version of Splash that touches on insecurity in relationships and buried family secrets.
Viktoriya Agalakova plays Marina, a young woman engaged to be married to Roma (Efim Petrunin). His buddies take him for a bachelor party at a cabin by a lake – the same place where his mother once disappeared. While there, he comes face-to-face with a malevolent mermaid (Sofia Shidlovskaya) who insists that he declare his love for her. Of course, he returns to Marina, so she begins tormenting both of them. She appears in Marina's bathtub, makes water in their home turn on, and generally scares the hell out of them. Marina realizes that, in order to banish the mermaid, she'll have to find out her original identity and why she's so intent on having Roma's affection.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Mermaid is that its protagonist is not the man who encounters the mermaid, but rather the guy's girlfriend. Aside from being worried about losing her soon-to-be husband, Marina is afraid of water, so the mermaid is a danger to her on a physical level as well as an emotional one. Underneath the story resides a theme related to romantic rivalry and the intensity of the threat when someone else moves in on the person you love.
Admittedly, all this might make it sound like Mermaid is about two women fighting over a man, which isn't really the case. The way things play out, it actually feels more like an examination of how true love is worth fighting for, and how protective we all need to be when we find it.
Director Svytoslav Podgaevsky gives the movie a sleek visual style, so that it looks like a dark fairy tale. There are a number of decent jump moments, as well. The mermaid is a creepy presence, especially during the third act, when her assault reaches full force. Calling The Mermaid scary wouldn't quite be accurate – Podgaevsky oddly pulls back in spots that would benefit from going full-bore – but it certainly has an eerie vibe.
The one thing the film most needs is a little extra character development. The story jumps into the proceedings pretty quickly. Taking some time to let us get to know Marina and Roma before the plot kicks into motion would have dramatically amplified our investment in their struggle. In cutting that short, we care because it's a movie and we're curious to see what happens, as opposed to caring because we feel personally invested in the characters.
Even with some undeniable flaws, enough about Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is entertaining to make it worth a look for horror buffs. The theatrical trailer is also included on the disc.
out of four
The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead is unrated, but contains adult language, violence, and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.