Director: Lee Thongkham
Notable Cast: Theerapat Sajakul, Sushar Manaying, Vithaya Pansringarm, Supansa Wedkama, Wanmai Chatborrirak, Thanachat Tullayachat, Ren Youxan, Su Qiucheng
"What is more cruel than the monster is the lie...the lie that a group of people made to cover up their own failure so that everything remains peaceful. But there was never true peace."
The quote above is delivered via a voiceover narrative that bookends the Thai blockbuster The Lake. While I am normally one to roll my eyes at these kinds of storytelling choices, it’s one that lingered with me well into the credits and the Thai pop song that adored them. Was this by-the-numbers monster flick one that had far more depth under its surface than I gave it credit for while watching it?
Yeah, there is more depth than expected. The brilliance (and perhaps the biggest obstacle) of The Lake is that this monster flick, which steals fully from other monster movies in both concept and execution, is way better than it ever should be. It is monster madness that somehow manages to pop in some incredibly heartfelt moments and some odd moments of existential crisis that elevate the experience. All while it delivers some fun bigger-than-life fish monster mayhem.
While the “monster movie” has seen a slight reinvigoration in the last handful of years, thanks to Legendary’s MonsterVerse, the Jurassic World movies, and the surprise international successes of Anno’s Shin films, it’s a genre that is mostly dominated by the likes of SyFy or The Asylum and not well-constructed, high production value cinema. To say that it still doesn’t quite have the respect that some of horror and science fiction’s other subgenres is a relative understatement and it’s a shame too. There are a lot of great ones out there.
The Lake, directed by Lee Thongkham, is one that aims to be included in some of the bigger names of the genre in the last 30 years. One can see the direct influence of Bong Joon-ho’s The Host or any of the various Jurassic Park films (particularly the first two) in most of the key beats. While that does ultimately make it something of a predictable formula for viewers, if one is going to aim high - you couldn’t go wrong with trying to pull influence from those films.
And while The Lake does unabashedly replicate moments from Jurassic Park or Cloverfield, the execution of the film is far more cohesive and punchier than one might expect. The performances are remarkably grounded in familial themes and delivered with heartfelt conviction. Most of the film's elevated themes do not come from its light commentary about climate change or how its monsters might potentially be related to gods of the past (or some kind of folk legend). Still, they are tied to basic human emotions and our relationship to nature. It leaves a kind of classic giant monster concept of nature run amok at the core of The Lake, but it lurks just enough under the surface to influence the script but not force the film into a giant metaphor. On one hand, it only adds to the material and never detracts, but on the other there is so many interesting concepts at play here that I desperately wanted the film to embrace them more. One of those, both a blessing and a curse, issues I suppose.
Adding to the overall entertainment value of the film is the visual style of the film. Production value-wise, where the torrential rain does NOT hinder the visuals, is pretty damn impressive. This might be one of the sleekest-looking Thai productions I've ever seen and that's worth noting. In particular, the monster design and execution are surprisingly accomplished. Using a mixture of CGI, massive animatronics, and a guy in a suit (yes, indeed), Lee Thongkham manages to throw down a monster that ought to have kaiju fans in mile-wide grins. There’s just something that appeases me to see a fishy monster go boom in this kind of movie and in those regards, The Lake certainly succeeds.
Sure, The Lake is ultimately predictable as it adheres to the monster-run-amok standard of narrative and plotting while pegging specific moments pulled from other great monster flicks. Even the tease for a sequel at the end feels like a cash-grab-tack-on, but I'll admit it - I was totally one for taking a big deep dive into The Lake. It's entertaining, the monster is kaiju-rrific, and it's got a lot of interesting ideas in its undercurrents. It's just too bad the film didn't quite have the wherewithal to fully explore its bigger ideas in the script.
Nonetheless, take a dive into The Lake, particularly if you like solid little monster flicks, and you might be surprised at what you can dredge up from under the surface.