The near two-hour running time for GHOST LAKE, director Jay Woelfel's 2004 shot-on-video feature, told me the movie was going to be rough going even before I watched a single frame. As I've learned from previous films--and what a painful lesson it was--DIY filmmakers rarely have the breadth or scope requiring an excessive length. Usually it means they lack an understanding of pacing or script economy; GHOST LAKE is no exception.
The movie, a potentially interesting marriage of the living dead and traditional ghost stories, reveals its amateurishness by saddling its very first scene with an inordinate number of flashbacks. It's an egregious misstep that kills any confidence one has in Woelfel's storytelling abilities; if a director doesn't understand the dangers of an exposition dump at a time when he should be hooking the audience, how will he handle the further development of his plot? As GHOST LAKE progresses, it justifies that fear.
That's not to say Woelfel's made a complete bomb; he makes effective use of a bucolic rustic setting, his film's solid on a technical level (though I could've done without the pointless use of split-screen), and he's got the makings of a good ghost yarn. But the mistakes he makes sabotages GHOST LAKE into becoming a cobbling of could've-beens. His choice of heroine is glaringly inappropriate, and not simply because she's a rather weak actress (all the performances are a bit undercooked across the board); she's supposedly haunted by a selfish error of judgment--she could've prevented her parents' death if she hadn't been hooking up in the backseat of a car--which makes her obligatory romantic subplot icky and more than a little cold. And though he mostly handles the spectral aspects of his story well, maintaining a suitably Gothic atmosphere, Woelfel blows it whenever he has the dead rising from the titular body of water to claim their victims, sequences that resemble a ZOMBIE LAKE remake.
It's this kind of creative inconsistency that makes micro-budget cinema so frustrating. Woelfel almost delivers a striking climax with an undead uprising, but fumbles by giving his zombies distorted electronic voices and tacking on a syrupy ending.
Fans of quiet supernatural horror may take to this more than zombie fans, given its less than visceral approach, but even they might be turned off by GHOST LAKE's late emphasis of walking corpses over spirits. Though displaying a few flashes of competence, it suffers too much under the weight of its considerable flaws.