My spin of the Netflix wheel landed on Neverlake. After watching it, I’d have to say that I broke even. In general, the movie is about equal in its hits and misses. Based on most of my experiences with this game though, I’m going to take that as a win.
Neverlake is a 2013, Italian horror film (though, it stars English actors and ninety percent of the film is in English, so the Italian nature (apart from the setting) never really comes across). I’m really not sure if I’d even call it a horror… there are definite elements of horror sprinkled in throughout the film, but in reality this is more of a supernatural mystery film than anything… and, that’s where its charm can be found. There is a unique quality to this film, and if the last month has taught me anything, it’s that going for something new is sometimes more important (and definitely more interesting) than trying to perfect a worn out horror premise. At the same time though, there are some familiar and overly well-tread themes and plot points in this film. In fact, there is something I want to spoil to make this point, but I will resist the urge. Let’s just say… no, there’s really no way for me to even hint at this without giving it away. All I can say is that if you’re paying at least a modicum of attention to the film (specifically, certain visual cues) certain revelations will fall flat, as they are completely expected. Even still, there are certain reveals that came to me as a pleasant surprise… I mean, they made perfect sense and if I were better at guessing the endings of movies, I’m sure I would have seen them coming. This is a weird review since I feel like my every critique of the film is followed up with another example of when the film avoided falling into the same trap. That’s the disappointing thing about this movie, with just a little more patience and planning the filmmaker (Riccardo Paoletti’s directorial debut) could have come up with a neat little film instead of something of a middling nature.
Here the basic plot of Neverlake: a teenaged girl goes to Italy to spend time with her father. She becomes intrigued with a nearby lake and a group of kids living at what appears to be an abandoned or at least extremely disheveled hospital. Something clearly is off about both. Where the filmmaker succeeds is in the mystery element of the movie. He sets up a very interesting mystery and reveals clues and plot twists at a good pace so your interest is held throughout. The best word I can use to describe this movie is pleasant. I know that seems like a weird word to use to describe a horror movie, but again this really doesn’t feel like a horror movie (apart from a few random (even shoehorned) scenes with blood and (minimal) gore). At times, it feels like a BBC take on a horror movie… I could almost see this as a Masterpiece Mystery (complete with weird television quality orchestral music). It never really scared or disturbed me (though a few plot points I found somewhat upsetting). It felt almost like a modern fairy-tale. It was able to achieve a timeless feel (which, I guess is why the inclusion of an iPad in certain scenes felt so out of place). I even saw elements of Pan’s Labyrinth in it… minus the distributing and violent imagery.
So, where does this movie go wrong? Well, I’m happy to report that it never goes completely off the rails and that the plot seems pretty tight. At the same time though, there are enough little things that add up to just enough to affect one’s viewing enjoyment. For example, there are several children in the movie. I am not altogether anti-child actor (as one of my good friends is), but I do get a little apprehensive when I see that there are going to be children in a movie who are relied on to do some heavy lifting. Let’s face it, the vast majority of kid out there are not equipped with the acting chops to do much more than look cute and perhaps eke out a catchphrase. That may seem overly harsh, but I’m going to stand by that statement… also, watch this movie and then tell me that I’m wrong. Don’t get me wrong the main characters are fine (and I guess that all that’s important) but there were some cringe-worthy moments when the other kids had to speak. Also, the filmmaker tried a bit too hard to make the film classy (I haven’t heard so much Shelley since my 10th grade English class)… so much so that at times it comes across as a bit pretentious. Finally, without giving anything away, there is a plot point towards the end of the movie that felt a unnecessarily callous, thoughtless, undeserved, and mean-spirited. This is especially jarring since the movie takes so much care to be pleasant. I honestly don’t think that the filmmaker meant to do this, but I also feel like he simply didn’t think his decisions out.
In the end, Neverlake just feels like a missed opportunity… what a shame.