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Nini Bull Robsahm • Director of Lake of Death

"Lake of Death gave me the opportunity to add a more personal touch"


- Norwegian director Nini Bull Robsahm introduces us to Lake of Death, her horror film released in Norway a few days ahead of Halloween. But is this movie a remake?

Nini Bull Robsahm • Director of Lake of Death
(© Axel Mustad)

Lake of Death [+see also:
interview: Nini Bull Robsahm
film profile
, the third feature film by the Norwegian director Nini Bull Robsahm, is a horror movie which thrusts us into the company of a group of young people holidaying in a sinister family cabin set in spooky natural surrounds. Dreams and reality intertwine, broken up by shock scenes. Recently presented in Oppdal as the opening film for the 9th edition of Norway’s horror film festival Ramaskrik, the movie is a loose adaptation of a work by the writer André Bjerke, published in 1942. Lake of Death is produced by Canopy Film and distributed by SF Studios.

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Cineuropa: Halloween is drawing near...
Nini Bull Robsahm:
I love Halloween. It makes me think of Hocus Pocus, Kenny Ortega’s fantastic comedy which I saw for the first time at the age of ten and which I still watch regularly. It was John Debney, the legendary film score creator, who composed the music for that film, as well as that of my own work Lake of Death. Another source of inspiration - for light and lighting this time - was Bob Bates, who also worked on Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. He travelled from New Orleans with his entire team to take part in our project. Poster and logo designer Dan Perri was also involved, as well as Jussi Tegelmann for sound effects. What luck to have been able to work with such talented artists! I learned a lot from them.

In 1958, Kåre Bergstrøm directed Lake of the Dead, a film based upon the same book by Bjerke. Why re-make this film?
Rather than a remake, it’s a tribute to a work that’s key to Norwegian culture and which marks the beginning of a tradition - that of horror books and films - and of a genre which became hugely popular and which we might call ‘’Cabin holidays with friends’’. I shot the movie using an analogue camera, 35 mm film, and with love: love for the nature, the traditions, the tales and the legends of my country, paying attention to the finer details. I also wanted to honour a somewhat obsolete narrative style and I was helped in this by Bob Murawski who’s an expert in putting together old-fashioned suspense sequences. He was the one who put together a supernatural thriller which I found particularly inspiring, The Gift by Sam Raimi, starring Cate Blanchett. Less dialogue, less gore and a greater dose of suspense; a fresh approach towards the characters and the plot – that’s the choice I made.

Could we describe it as a modernisation?
I don’t think so. If I’d wanted to modernise it, I would have used a different, more contemporary cinematographic language. Instead, for this particular element, I drew inspiration from films from the end of the twentieth century. I also used a real orchestra, which is unusual these days.

Is Lake of Death a continuation of Amnesia [+see also:
film review
film profile
, your previous film?
Amnesia is a dark film too, filled with suspense and fear. But the story is entirely different. Above all, Lake of Death gave me the opportunity to add a more personal touch, to affirm my preferences in the field of visual expression. I have to say that it was my big brother Thomas Robsahm who gave me the idea for this film, an idea which I rejected at first: cult book, cult film, there was no way I was going near it. But then I became fascinated with Lillian Werner, a secondary character in the book whom I ultimately chose as the film’s lead. The “gallery” of characters was somewhat modified as a result. For example, I wanted them to be older than in the book.

And your actors?
Amazing. Aside from Iben Akerlie who plays Lillian and Jakob Andersen Schøyen, both of whom are well known in Norway, I chose entirely new faces. Most of these young actors, being used to digital and to working at a different pace, were very surprised by how few takes there were, even though I’d explained how the filming process would work at great length.

The director of photography is…
Axel Mustad
. He was basically the one who found the film locations, the mysterious lake and the cabin we’d dreamed of for the interior shots. The Jeløya Nature Reserve, a little south of Oslo, offered the magical atmosphere that we were looking for. We also shot in Bergen, among other places.    

And the film shoot?
It lasted around twenty days, which isn’t very much, in frighteningly hot temperatures, with a temperamental camera to begin with and amidst a fear of failure, as well as intense efforts delivered under urgent conditions… In short, it was quite stressful, but we had a lot of fun … and the film is finished! I’m really grateful to all the team.

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(Translated from French)

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