A decades-spanning investigation on a series of mystifying mass murders drives the plot of Carl Zitelmann’s Venezuelan supernatural thriller “The Lake Vampire,” which derives its most bone-chilling scares not from graphic depictions of blood-sucking action or hellish monstrosities, but from discourse on humans’ narcissistic lust for immortality — whether literally related to our physical bodies or to a legacy that can prevent us from fading into anonymity.
Self-proclaimed cult author Ernesto Navarro (Sócrates Serrano) is drawn to an ancestral enigma that leads him to retired detective Jeremias Morales (Miguel Ángel Landa), who in flashbacks retraces his encounter with degenerate killer Zacarias Ortega (Eduardo Gulino, playing several characters) and the appalling aftermath. Converted from total skeptic to cautious agnostic, Morales warns the writer about the undying evil he faced but couldn’t defeat. It’s Navarro’s turn to try.
Shrouded in an atmospherically gloomy color palette, Zitelmann’s exemplarily produced effort remains engaging even as it gets tangled in the convoluted mystery surrounding the identity of the thirsty adversary at hand. Is Navarro after the same demon Morales confronted years ago, or are there multiple killers? Other pitfalls include overly literary dialogue and predictably symbolic tropes such as a black dog standing in for a feared entity.
Overwrought but nonetheless thoughtfully creepy, “The Lake Vampire” emerges as a new and formidable calling card for genre cinema in Venezuela and for Zitelmann as a creator. Its narrative fangs may not be fully sharpened, but enough to pique one’s morbid interest.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 27, Laemmle Glendale