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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Ghost Lake

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Ghost Lake
2005 (2005) - Young Wolf Productions (Velocity)

Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/B-

You've gotta love the spirit and tenacity of independent film producers. You know, the little guys - the guys who make films for the love of filmmaking itself rather than the money. This spirit is clearly in evidence in Ghost Lake... no pun intended.

The film itself follows young Rebecca (Tatum Adair), as she retreats to her family lake house in the wake of her parents' accidental death. Rebecca blames herself for their demise, and you can understand why. She was getting schtooped by some jerk in the backseat of a car while her parents were slowly being poisoned by a gas leak back home.

However, Rebecca soon begins to realize that there's more to her situation than meets the eye. For one thing, her neighbors on the lake begin succumbing to a rather watery fate... or are they? It seems that only she can see their deaths. And there's this strange little girl that keeps appearing to her as well. What does it all mean? Well, let's just say that water-logged zombies are involved.

Unfortunately, Ghost Lake suffers from a lot of bad dialogue and acting. There are numerous genre cliches in evidence here - keys conveniently left underneath door mats, etc. And even though the film only runs 112 minutes, it drags badly in a few spots. A better editor could probably have picked up the pace to increase the tension... and done so without the use of cheesy split-screen wipes. The film is also done a disservice by the DVD packaging's cover art, which makes Ghost Lake seem much more horrific and Romero-esque than it really is.

All that aside, Ghost Lake is still a good idea for a spook-fest. It's been beautifully shot on HD video. Director Jay Woelfel and cinematographer Paul Deng have a real eye for composing a shot. And there's genuine creativity and inventiveness apparent in almost every frame. For example, there are a number of underwater shots that were achieved wonderfully, even on a shoestring budget. Somehow, the filmmakers (including producer Johnnie J. Young) got the small New York village in which they shot Ghost Lake to donate the use of real police, rescue and fire vehicles and equipment, the town hall and library, etc. And while some of the digital effects are lacking, others are excellent - certainly much better than I would have expected from a film of this budget.

Also impressive, given the budget, is that fact that Ghost Lake is presented on DVD in full anamorphic widescreen video. It's pretty damn good looking too. This is certainly not up to Hollywood feature snuff - you'll see some image lag and colors are a bit washed out at times - but the picture is clean and clear, even when you blow it up on a large screen. The audio is surprising as well, presented in full Dolby Digital 5.1. You'll actually occasionally hear the rear channels get active too, for music, ambient sound and the off-hand directional effect. Okay... the soundtrack is a little too desktop PC-sounding to really be an organic match for the visuals, but again, this is an impressive effort.

The DVD also includes a nice batch of extras - WAY more than I would have expected. You get audio commentary with the director, a series of deleted scenes (letterboxed) and a 20-minute behind the scenes featurette. Sure, there's the usual bit of back patting and "gee-wiz, aren't we cool making a film" kind of thing, BUT you also see how a number of the shots and effects were ingeniously achieved... including that underwater photography I mentioned earlier.

Ghost Lake may (or may not) engage you as a horror film, but it's awfully hard not to be impressed by the effort. It's a movie that surprised me more for the ingenuity of the filmmakers than the actual result. Director Woelfel might be wise not to wear quite so many hats next time (in addition to directing the film, he also wrote it, and scored it too). But with a dialogue polish, more experienced actors and a better editor... this could really have been a good film. Given that, I'm looking forward to seeing what the team at Young Wolf Productions does next. One of these days, they're going to come up with something special.

Bill Hunt
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