Jenny, a young English woman, takes some time away from school to visit her father, Dr. Brooks, in Italy. Brooks is a former doctor turned archeologist, and his current obsession is the Lake of Idols, a lake previously worshipped by the ancient Etruscans and said to have held magical powers. While there she inadvertently discovers some of her father’s deep, dark secrets about his past. Secrets that could very well get her killed.
Here’s another movie I’d never heard about that I was impressed by. Neverlake is an Italian produced undertaking from 2013 and is an interesting mix of ghost story and medical mystery. The movie is framed solely around Jenny’s perspective and there is a distinct dream-like quality permeating most of the film, helped along by Jenny’s recitation of poetic prose. It has, in a sense, almost an underlying feel of Romanticism mixed in with the ever-increasingly obvious ominous-ness. These touches, along with much of the imagery, work well together, but do lean more towards a romantic, fantasy vibe, rather than a straight-up horror. It’s an interesting mix, to say the least.
It’s never really in question that something is inherently wrong with Jenny’s father, or his housekeeper, Olga. Their words of warm welcome and gracious acceptance clash horribly with their secretive ways and perpetually frowning faces. The odd visit only continues, as her neglectful father constantly slips away on unknown errands and mysterious Olga continually feeds Jenny pills – which she swallows without hesitation – that the distant woman refers to as vitamins. (Pro-tip, kids: Never swallow crap some stranger calls “v-tah-mins”.) Other than that, Jenny is generally left to herself.
Obviously bored out of her freaking mind, Jenny visits the lake her dad is studying and comes across a young, blindfolded girl, who asks her if she can take her back to the orphanage. Of course, the orphanage comes across as more as a deteriorated insane asylum than a home for poor children. The pale, almost ethereal-like child introduces her to other sickly, pale children of varying ages, each with their own unique affliction. This is where the story starts to turn a bit more ‘gothic’, as Jenny often returns to visit with them and read stories and poetry to the rather morbid, yet capricious children. Add to this that Jenny never really questions what they tell her and goes along with what they ask without question, just adds to Jenny’s childlike naiveté and the films more dream-like atmosphere. Not that that won’t keep you from continuing to question Jenny’s decision-making skills. I’d blame it on the boarding school upbringing.
The issues that plague the film are all small, but add up enough to knock it down from what could have ended up becoming a modern classic. Some transitions are too abrupt, the characters could have greatly benefited from being fleshed out more and some set-ups are either never connected or don’t make a lick of sense. For instance, Jenny tells us that her British parents met in Tuscany, but that she was taken by her grandmother and raised in America at a boarding school. So then, why does she have such a tick, British accent? This is never explained and it’s often small instances such as that that keep the movie from being as great as it could be.
Overall, I was quite surprised by Neverlake. It has an interesting mix of genres that the viewer will either find fascinating or infuriating. I found the use of poetry quite interesting and felt it mixed well with the overall vibe of the film, but I could see how some viewers could find it pretentious. It has a few notable inconsistencies, but the visuals and the atmosphere do a lot to make up for it. If you’re looking for a relatively tame ghost story (it’s NR, but I’d stick it at a solid PG-13) and don’t mind that it focuses on teenagers, than you could do a lot worse than Neverlake.
Neverlake is available on a variety of streaming services, including free on Tubi TV.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray, though not necessarily in the same region you’d be looking for.