Hmmm? Time for another Review, and this time something a wee bit different than my usual Asian flavored films with a trip to scenic Finland for a look at director Joona Tena’s 2011’s psychological horror/ thriller “Syvälle Salattu” aka “Body of Water”.
My synopsis goes like this: “Environmental lawyer Julia Mannerla is tasked with reluctantly returning to her childhood home to help stop hydro-power developers from flooding the town and displacing the residents. Still dealing with her recent divorce, she and her young son Niko soon discover that a local folk legend about a water spirit in the lake is somehow deeply connected to old memories Julia had buried away in the back of her mind from all those years ago… and that the open hostility of the residents might not be the biggest danger they face by returning to Lake Hallow.”
Evil mermaid? Yep… seems to me this one plays on the myths of the Rusalka, mermaid sirens from old Slavic lore that lived in lakes and rivers and often lured the foolish or unwary to a watery doom. Yep. Sounds kinds creepy and fun… Then, of course, this wee lady likes all sorts of ghosts and spirits and odd folklore, and I’m super afraid of the water myself, so I’m certainly thinking this one has the possibility of entertaining me while completely scaring me silly. Want to know how it all plays out? Then you know what you gotta do, o’ Gentle Visitor!! 😉
Somehow I missed this one when it first came along back in 2011. Not really surprising, I’m much more in tune with Asian film releases than I am European ones. Luckily for lil’ ol me, I do routinely run Google searches for genre films from various places, and when I ran one for Finland not too long ago, this one popped up. A bit of research later, and I found a Trailer… which got me interested enough to track down and source a DVD and thanks to Amazon, pretty soon a nice Region 2 Finnish DVD was all mine for the watching. Gosh, what a wonderful age we live in…. 😉
Yep. While this one sounds like a straight up “horror” film, it was marketed as a “thriller”… and I ran into the words “psychological” and “hallucinatory” quite a few times in my search for it. Now… those are pretty much the subtle hint that this was probably going to be one of those “horror movies that end up not being supernatural”. You know the ones… Like when the dreaded Crimson Phantom ends up being old man Jenkins in a rubber mask on “Scooby Doo”. Sigh… Goodness how I really dislike that tired old “reasonable explanation for everything after-all” plot. Sure it was sneaky and worked once…. but this lady likes her scary stuff to be all creepy and supernatural and not just some result of mental illness on the part of our heroine.
We started with a nice little narrative history explaining the folktale of the Water Spirit of Lake Hallow. Seems that in olden times she made bargains with those down on their luck to bring them wealth in exchange for their first born child given to her to take deep beneath the lake never to be seen again. The ultimate “get rich quick scheme”, eh? Well… it’s that very story that lies at the heart of our little film as recently divorced lawyer Julia Mannerla (played by Krista Kosonen) makes her way to the village along Lake Hallow to serve as legal adviser to some environmentalists opposing the proposed power development planned for the area. She gets stuck with this job because she grew up in the town years earlier before she and her parents moved away to Helsinki. It’s not a job she really wants. For one thing, it’s timing couldn’t be worse, falling as it does right in the middle of a promised holiday with her son Niko (played by Viljami Nojonen), still confused and bitter about his parents splitting up and not at all happy about being dragged to the middle of nowhere to be bored while she ignores him to deal with the details of the whole thing. Yep. There’s going to be some tension there. A quick visit with her parents doesn’t help either. All that means is that Niko has to make nice with catatonic Grandma who just plain creeps him out. Mind you, once Grandma hears where they are headed she comes out of her vegetative state and has a fit and gasping out that cryptic warning that tells you Lake Hallow is probably not a good choice to promote mother/son bonding bliss.
Oh yes…. and most of the locals? Not exactly sympathetic to the conservation efforts to save the lake either. Most of them feel they are stuck in a dying backwater town with no future. Most are happy with the whole idea of getting compensation for the flooding of their land and maybe some new jobs at the power plant. That alone soon makes Julia just about the least popular person in the area. However, while this element could make for some nice “red herring” stuff to “muddy the waters” so to speak, nothing really gets done with that possible plot entanglement.
It isn’t long after taking up residence at the old school that was her childhood home, that Julia starts experiencing those odd things that make both her… and those of us watching… start wondering if maybe… just maybe.. those old folklore stories about the Spirit of the lake might be more than just quaint folklore.
There’s odd noises in the old house… problems with the plumbing… and then the death of her son Niko’s loyal dog early on… by drowning in the nearby lake of course… to have her questioning reality. Add to that some disturbing dislike of her father by some of the older locals, stories that paint him as a young man completely without means who now seems to have it all financially for reasons nobody can adequately explain. Did he make some supernatural deal with the Lake Spirit when she was a girl?
Hmmmm? Maybe he did. Seems Julia’s also beginning to remember other things from waaaay back then…. right around when her mom went all crazy and catatonic… disturbing things. Like the fact that she once had an older brother, Juhani (played by Max Vannasmaa)… a “first born son” like in the old stories… who tragically drowned in the lake “accidentally”. Something so terrible that she’s blocked out his very existence in her memories ever since. Was he sacrificed by her father to gain his wealth? Worse still… would he do it again to his own grandson Niko to gain even more?
That paranoia drives the suspense for the latter third of the film as Julia struggles to protect herself and her son from forces she finds herself beginning to believe in despite all rationality. Is it the Water Spirit who seeks their lives? Her father? The hunky schoolteacher who seems perhaps a wee bit toooo obsessed with those old legends to be trusted? Or…. is poor really Julia just losing her mind?
Neko’s not going to tell you. So there. 😛 But basically it is fair to say that the story sticks pretty close to a tried and true formula that will have almost anybody in the audience fairly certain of just what’s what and who’s who by the time the climax rolls around. So really… no surprises are in store, “twist ending” or no “twist ending”. Ooooohhh…. and remember… our DVD dust jacket never promised us a real horror story…. 😉
But hey, it’s not always the most original stories that work the best. All in all I’d have to say this one wasn’t actually too bad a lil’ thriller. The acting is good, and Krista Kosonen does an admirable job making the character of Julia both believable and sympathetic without relying on too much heavy melodrama. The effects work, and the idea of the Rusalka as a supernatural menace was certainly different from my usual passel of ghosties and ghoulies. Your favorite Catgirl likes learning creepy new folklore from places far, far away and “Syvälle Salattu” certainly fit the bill nicely.
With that… it’s fair to give this wee exercise in “Scoopy Doo” story telling a firm 3 “Meows” out of 5. It was an enjoyable lil’ thriller… and my sweetie liked it as well, so I’d call it a winner all round. The Region 2 DVD was nice, presenting the film in the original Finnish audio with English, Swedish, and Norwegian subtitles along for the ride. It’s available for right around 28-35$ US as an import here in the good ol’ USA, but a much more budget friendly Region 1 release is available too for right around 15-20 $ US under the English title of “Body of Water”. Whichever way you choose, it’s a solid bet for an evening’s movie watching fun if crazy foreign ghost stories tickle you as much as they do this wee Catgirl. 😉
What’s that? A Trailer? But of course! 😉