Directed by: Ben Milliken
Cast: Laura Niemi, Brad Schmidt, Brando Eaton, Michael Shamus Wiles, Peter O’Brien,
Ben Milliken has an interesting little slasher on his hands. Lake Alice combines strong home invasion elements with vintage slasher violence, and a lot of it works wonderfully. Unfortunately, it isn’t a perfect film, and the tight binding that holds the story together through the first two acts begins to become unraveled as we move toward the picture’s climactic sequences. And we’ll cover those highs and lows, let’s just take a moment to peek at the story itself, first.
The story focuses on a family who’ve gotten together to celebrate Christmas. Mom and Dad are along for the ride, as are their daughter, Sarah and her new fiancée, Ryan. Dad isn’t crazy about Ryan, though he hasn’t given him much of a chance. Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter much. Masked assailants descend upon the rural home. Cell phone reception is non-existent. Phone lines are cut. And hatchets begin to fly. Who will survive the holiday from hell? Better yet, who’s behind the chaos that has befallen seemingly ordinary middle-class American family?
I really cannot praise Milliken enough for the tension he slowly generates the first 60 minutes. The strain between future father-in-law and son-in-law is accurately awkward. Mom’s trapped in the middle of it all, happy for her daughter, leery of pissing her hubby off. It all feels very organic, as does Ryan’s response to the general situation.
That stuff makes for great film, especially when you know everyone is about to be clubbed by an unexpected monkey wrench. You can’t set a movie like this up much better than Milliken manages.
The problems however, begin to take shape after all of the introductory and exploratory work has reached its end. It’s when the violence gets to barreling along that some errors start to poke through the surface.
Sadly, I think the greatest weakness of the film falls on Brando Eaton’s shoulders. I’m not sure if it’s the direction he was given, or if he took his character, Tyler, in a direction he believed was most convincing, but either way, he overacts his way through each and every scene he’s featured in. It’s a strange thing to see. Up until Tyler’s involvement things feel so smooth… but once he’s introduced, those tight binds that Milliken seemed to have over his production begin to show areas of serious slack. The tension falls apart, and, at times, becomes borderline comical.
Oddly enough, there are moments when this crazy spin in vibe and mood almost work. A few fleeting moments leave the viewer feeling as though we’re pointing and laughing at a three-decade old piece of work that was designed to make us point and laugh at a well-played homage. But that sensation isn’t exactly dominant, as no one but Eaton seems to have gotten the message, if the message was indeed to go for big raucous and outrageous laughs, so far over the top Bonds would look on with admiration.
I’m bummed by the conclusion of Lake Alice. Milliken looks to be a filmmaker with a lot of promise. He stretches a limited budget wonderfully far. He develops excellent moments of pressure between realistic personalities. He seems to be able to sustain clear vision for lengthy stretches. I think this just happened to be one of those fluke instances in which one or two elements don’t jive with the bulk of the production. It’s a shame that these weaknesses were somewhat detrimental to the film, but, what can you do? You fall down – you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and make a stronger run the next time out.
Now, I’ll leave you with one final note: I’ll be supporting Ben Milliken in the future. According to imdb.com, this is Ben’s first feature length film. If that is accurate, then this guy has a ceiling we can’t see yet. I’m saying it now: keep your eyes on Milliken in the next few years, if behind the camera is where he truly aims to spend his time, he may develop into someone we know and respect.