Film Review – The Lake on Clinton Road
The Lake on Clinton Road
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A group of young people, drunk on sex and alcohol, make their way to a remote cabin in the middle of the woods. What was supposed to be a fun party quickly turns deadly when a mysterious force invades the group, picking them off one by one. Sound familiar?
The “cabin in the woods” subgenre of horror has become so overused that it’s a wonder if there’s anything left to say. Satires like The Cabin in the Woods (2012) and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010) have done their share of skewering the well-known conventions. Writer/director DeShon Hardy’s debut feature, The Lake on Clinton Road (2015) feels very much like a throw back, taking a sincere approach this time around. That decision comes with pros and cons. It’s clear that Hardy has a fondness for this type of horror and crafts his story as such. But because the final product so closely adheres to the outline step by step, there isn’t much in terms of surprise.
A strong element is how Hardy takes the framework and places it within a real world context. Clinton Road in New Jersey is a real place, and has gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted stretches of road in the country. A quick Wikipedia search tells me that local legends describe how there have been sightings of ghosts and gatherings of witches, Satanists, and members of the Ku Klux Klan there. Professional hit men are rumored to have dumped bodies in the neighboring areas. In all likelihood these tales are hogwash, but it’s interesting to see how Hardy takes a specific place and builds his narrative around that. I’m sure residents of New Jersey will appreciate this attention to detail – Hardy starts off with a montage of these stories, laying down a nice creepy foundation.
The plot revolves around a group of young, irresponsible partygoers. After finishing up with classes, six friends decide to take a road trip down to the Jersey Shore for fun and relaxation. Alex (Richard Ryker), Jillian (Leah Jones), Mark (Anthony Grant), Stacy (India Autry), Jaime (Matty Poslusny), and Amber (Stephanie Marrone), are three couples with not a care in the world. Among the things they choose not to care about is keeping directions, as their journey somehow takes them deep into the woods instead of the beach. Trying to make the most of the situation, they set up shop in an abandoned lake house (because why not?). Soon after arriving, the group realizes something is amiss, something dangerous that has its eye targeted right at them.
For a debut feature on what I’m sure is a limited budget, Hardy makes the most of the resources he has. When it comes to the scare scenes, he relies heavily on quick cutting and the use of shadows to deliver the terror. Sometimes the lack of budget shows, like when a jump scare is comprised of the camera simply turning away from an empty hallway only to turn back and find something now there. But there are highlights. Hardy knows when to narrow in on a special effect or the angle of a shot. One example has a character contorting their body as though they’ve broken their back. The camera movement (assisted by cinematographer Aram Bauman) amplifies this by turning the frame with the actor. Another scene has a character dragged along the floor by an invisible spirit. The camera is placed high and pointed straight down to the ground to get a good view of the character sliding around. It’s the best shot of the film.
The scares don’t come until late in the runtime. At a brisk eighty minutes, there isn’t a lot of time to build suspense. The first and second acts are unfortunately used to showcase how sex-crazed and alcohol fueled the main characters are. It’s understandable that in a story like this, characters wouldn’t make the wisest decisions, but Hardy decides to linger on the sexual elements far longer than needed. There’s unnecessary nudity, all from the female characters. During the road trip, the group decides to stop momentarily just so we can see the girls twerk and the guys ogle over them with beers in hand. These scenes last so long (and shot in slow motion, like a music video), that it became uncomfortable to watch, and not in a good way. Sex and nudity are often punished in horror films, but the execution here doesn’t appear to be for cautionary reasons. There’s a voyeuristic, almost exploitative tone with how the women go topless. I checked my watch, and it was thirty five to forty minutes in and we were still seeing these characters drinking alcohol and getting naked.
While The Lake on Clinton Road didn’t work for me overall, DeShon Hardy does show promise. With this first feature under his belt, hopefully he’ll be able to get more funding to really blossom and develop his technique, especially in creating memorable scare sequences. If anything, this acts as a warm up to bigger and better things down the line.