Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review: Creature Lake (Gitaskog)

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Creature Lake [aka Gitaskog]
Directed by Drazen Baric
BaricFilms Productions / SlevinArts /
Wild Eye Releasing / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2016 / 2017

I kinda like the sentiments behind this film a lot, which is: respect the land and its guardians. In a time when the government is bullying aboriginal people for their own profits with pipelines and possibly making the area uninhabitable, there is a meta-message here.

Ivan Simanic
We meet five friends who are total greedy tools, not to mention racists (“C’mon, we were just joking…” types) that take a trip into the deep woods “up north” (this Canadian release was filmed near Mississauga, Ontario, which is just outside Toronto). It seems one of them, Jason (Ivan Simanic), has plans to build vacation houses around a lake that is sacred to the local indigenous people. Of course they don’t care about them; it’s the ka-ching that is their focus. They have no problems alienating the locals at a diner, and hell, they even turn on their one black friend Conrad (Brandon Dhue), all in good fun. Yeah, they’re douches.

For example, during a drunken night by the fire, when not insulting their only Black companion, one whines that “Women are never satisfied.” Yeah, if you say that, there is a reason why that is true, and it’s because of you, not them. But it’s important that they be douches for the story, so they can become fodder for both the titular lake creature, and the natives who have no patience (and rightfully so) for those who have no respect for their beliefs to a killer entity, echoing a theme from the overrated Jug Face (2013).

So there are a few elements here that take on other current films, such as the cabin in the woods, and, sadly, the overused found footage motif. If I may be permitted a brief rant here, please, if there is no end to this format, can we at least have a moratorium for a year or two? Found footage is so pass√© already, though there is a nice spoof here of the snot scene from the granddaddy of this style, The Blair Witch Project (1999; I’ve referenced this so much lately, I even know the year without looking it up).

Anyway, getting back to the meat of the matter, I’m grateful that the guys are their own age, rather than trying to pass them off as teens or college students, as is so often the case with the cabin in the woods trope.

As is typical, not much happens in the first half of the film, other than a cameo by Miss Canada of 2010, Elena Semikina, though to be fair there are two or three good moments that lead up to the fate that awaits.

Some of the effects (mostly digital) are pretty good, and the creature looks great. When it makes its appearance toward the end, it’s kind of worth the wait, even though it’s short. Plus there is a disappearing nude woman and a younger (dressed) one that they do the dark eyes and stretched mouth that has been used often, if I’m correct, starting with Grave Encounters (2011). You can see it in the trailer below.

Speaking of the creature, the original name of the film is Gitaskog, which is actually a real First Nations (the Canadian term for Native Americans) name for a tentacled lake creature (HERE); it seems to be more common to find indigenous names for beasties in films lately, such as with Stomping Ground (2014, which dealt with a Bigfoot). 

One of my big gripes about found footage films that seem to be somewhat consistent is that the cameras never seem to run out of juice, the way guns keep firing in old westerns. These guys are at a cabin/shack with no electricity for three days, run their cameras often during that time, and yet my camera dies after a couple of hours. Suspension of disbelief? I have less trouble with a fantastical tentacled lake creature than I do with dubious camera power. What does that say about me?

I found it amusing that during the introduction of the characters at the beginning, one of them, Todd (Greg Carraro) has a strong Canadian accent (yes, that is a thing), though it’s not really present during the rest of the film. Not a complaint in any kind of way, just a bemused observation.

As found footage films go, this is better than most I’ve seen recently, even with the running through the woods shots (at least it’s during the day and not at night by the camera’s light, or worse, the green “night vision” effect). There is no sadness in the loss of these guys, as they don’t endear themselves to the viewer at all, but that did not hurt the story. I would have liked to have seen the First Nations characters be more sympathetic, to explain why they were doing their actions, but that kind of gets lost (possibly because we are seeing it literally through the eyes/lens of the five-some).

Also, I found it interesting that some of these guys are dispatched by the gitaskog, and some by the creature’s guardians, giving it a more human touch. But there are questions I have, of course. One is, what is the purpose of the younger woman spirit that keeps popping up? The naked woman (siren) makes sense at first, but in later appearances, further from the lake, it’s of more questionable purpose. And lastly for now – and this is more an observation than a question – this is the second found footage film I’ve seen this month where the guy with the camera keeps focusing in on his (female) partner’s ass.

The extras are a nice collection of Wild Eye Releasing trailers (including for this film), and a nearly three-minute slideshow of drawings that would eventually become the titular creature.

As found footagers go, as I said, this one is decent and the effects are well done, so you might get a hoot out of it. Since the acting is pretty respectable and naturalistic, considering this is the only listing for most of the cast on IMDB, that’s also a bonus. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a nice way to spend a rainy/snowy weekend afternoon.

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