Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Lake: a Thai Kaiju Rises

Remember kids, kaiju eggs are not keepsakes. When a village girl steals on of its eggs, of course the alpha kaiju will come looking for it. Ditto for when the big city cops capture a junior kaiju. The resulting carnage might even satisfy the bloodlust of Ivy League student “activists.” Death comes wet and muddy in Lee Thongkham’s The Lake, which screens at the Spectacle in Brooklyn.

When torrential rains wash a batch of kaiju eggs to the shore, you better expect one of the beasts will come to retrieve them. The next morning little May luckily stumbles across the last one left and she refuses to give it up when her family asks: “what the heck.” Arguably, this will all be her fault.

When the first kaiju attacks the village, Keng and Lin barely escape, but his wound gives him brief, disorienting moments of kaiju vision. Unfortunately, the creature follows them to the bigger city, where he is receiving treatment. Soon, Suwat, the police chief, summons all officers to handle the attacking kaiju. That would include James, an inspector, who leaves his truant teen daughter Pam in the backseat of his cruiser, because what is the worst that could happen under the circumstances? Remember, they haven’t even seen the big one yet.

The kaiju effects are cool, which is, by far, the most important thing about
The Lake. The junior kaiju sort of looks like a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Xenomorph from Alien. For some shots, there is still a dude in the suit—and he acts incredibly pissed off. It was augmented with CGI, but the mix looks terrific on-screen. The senior kaiju clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the king himself, Godzilla. It has a big set-piece scene that clearly rips off Jurassic Park, but they do it well.

There is no question the biggest stars of the film are the kaiju, designed by Jordu Schell, whose sculptural effects have been seen in films like
Starship Troopers, Cloverfield, and Hellboy. The people, on the other hand, are somewhat hit-or-miss. However, the great Vithaya Pansringarm brings a lot grounded maturity to the film as Chief Suwat (who also must worry about his own daughter Fon, a junior officer on the force).

Theerapat Sajakul is also impressively hard-boiled as Inspector James, but his character is not a good decision-maker or strategic thinker. Frustratingly, the younger the character, the less patience viewers will have for them.

Despite the obvious American and Japanese influences, Thongkham maintains
Lake’s Thai-ness, particularly through the ambiguous but not insignificant appearances of Buddhist monks, who do indeed keep their composure. They will have an important role to play in the long epilogue. It is a strange sequence, but it dramatically differentiates The Lake from other monster movies, in a good way.

Regardless, there is no question viewers will come to
The Lake for the monsters and they will stay for the monsters. The Buddhism is a nice extra bonus. Easily recommended for kaiju fans, The Lake screens again next Saturday (10/21) and Monday (10/30) at the Spectacle Theater.