Sam's LakeAs many independent films do, the inventive horror film Sam’s Lake has taken the long road to its upcoming video release via Lionsgate Entertainment. Created originally in 2002 as a 25-minute short, Canadian writer/director Andrew C. Erin went on to extend the film to feature length in 2005. Four years later, Erin is finally witnessing his feature directorial debut being released to the public. And though the resulting feature is inarguably flawed, it also succeeds admirably in offering a nice twist to the typical remote cabin slasher flick – a feat not easily accomplished in a time when each month sees at least one big budget horror movie dropped into theatres.

Sam’s Lake tells the seemingly cliche story of a group of friends, led by the titular Sam (Fay Masterson), who opt to spend a weekend in a remote cabin in a rural township. As is standard practice at this point, we find out – via a cautious though creepy store clerk and a  spooky campfire story – about a hauntingly eerie rumor that permeates the surrounding area: forty years ago a deranged young man, placed in a mental institution by his worried parents, escaped and brutally murdered his entire family before disappearing into the wilderness. All cliches aside, it’s a relatively creepy story, and despite budgetary restrictions, Erin manages to maintain an aura of suspense and fright around the tale itself.

I have to be honest, though, for the first 30 minutes of this film I found myself groaning with impatience and annoyance – the dialogue is cheesy, the acting feels stilted, and the low budget constantly seems to be peeking around the edges of each shot. But it’s a testament to Erin’s witty and original script that once the story kicks into gear, it doesn’t let up. When the group of friends discover a long-abandoned journal and begin to read from it, the story takes a sharp and much-appreciated turn for the better. From here on out audience members are along for the ride, with no preconceptions on what could happen next. Sam’s Lake morphs from a slightly boring groaner into a bona fide thriller in a few short minutes.

But throughout the film, it’s clear that Sam’s Lake would have benefitted from a budgetary increase and a few rewrites. It has the kind of storyline that makes for impactful horror viewing, but without the film quality it’s unlikely to reach its target audience. As someone who has been enjoying horror films since elementary school, I found plenty to love about Sam’s Lake, but this is the kind of film that would benefit from a glossy big-budget remake or a Rob Zombie-ish grainy ’70s cinematic version.

Zach’s Rating: 6 (out of 10)

To purchase Sam’s Lake, available April 21st, visit Amazon

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