NB: SPOILERS INSIDE
Last week, Swedish series Black Lake (Svartsjön) started on BBC Four and provided plenty of horror/crime mash-up fun, telling the story of a group of twentysomethings stuck in a remote ski lodge, which has a history – 20 years before a young family was murdered in the hotel, and our main character, young Danish woman Hanne, believes the ghosts of the children now roam the place. Episodes one and two contained plenty of classic horror genre devices, but there was also a noirish, amateur detective element to the piece, which made things interesting. Episodes three and four continued to mesh both genres, to devastating, impressive effect.
At the end of episode two, we saw Jessan flip out into a possessed trance, shrieking that she had “killed the children”. This third episode dealt with the inevitable fall-out, the group’s playful excitement at having a whole lodge to themselves replaced by anxiety, shock and foreboding. So much so, Jessan’s flip-out precipitated a wholesale purging of secrets: we found out that Hanne had not only witnessed the death of her brother, but was also present on the boat with him and almost drowned herself; Osvald was gay and was conducting a secret relationship with Lippi (who, up until that moment had been pretty quiet); and there was Jessan herself. She had woken from her state, tired and emotional, only to be greeted by words scrawled on her bedroom wall: GÄÄDEK JÄÄMIT. We had seen these words on the drawings Hanne had seen in the family’s room, and also in fridge magnet form.
Naturally, Hanne wanted to know what these words meant and, with Jostein’s help (their obvious liking for each other resulted in a stolen kiss), visited a Sami farmer, who, they thought, might know the meaning of this dialectical phrase. (It’s not the first time we’ve seen the Sami featured in a crime drama this year: see Midnight Sun.) She found out alright, but we wouldn’t know the meaning of it until episode four.
Episode three continued with Jessan’s recovery. She was onboard with Hanne’s theory that there spirits of dead children floating about the place trying to contact the group, so Jessan decided to take matters into their own hands and hold a seance. Everyone was up for it, bar Johan (who is surely the dick of the group), and the results were creepy and unexpected (at least for the group): the lights went out, Lippi had been scratched and Jessan had disappeared. After a frantic search, they found her in the cellar, wounded and dazed.
So far, so predictable (but also quite creepy). What followed next ratcheted up the tension considerably, thanks to some fabulously staged and well-played scenes. Jessan, once again coming around after another episode, was reflective and contrite. Frank was supportive, although he had found some pills that, according to Mette, were used to treat personality disorders. Jessan confessed that she had indeed killed a child: she had had an abortion when she was a younger woman while living in Berlin and was later admitted to a psychiatric ward to deal with the emotional devastation. She had kept the pills as a reminder. It was a fabulous scene and well acted (Aliette Opheim as Jessan has been tremendous, conveying confidence, fragility, and a necessary edge), adding emotional weight to traditional characters in a horror piece.
What was also interesting was Jessan’s revelation of terminating a child – Hanne had also witnessed the death of a child, and, although not to blame, it made some sort of sense that they were both being targeted by the ghosts of children, or at least were hyper-sensitive to the idea of child ghosts. In an emotional conversation with her sister, Mette also admitted she had had a miscarriage – I wonder if Metter is next to tune into what’s happening in the hotel.
Episode three ended when Jessan became possessed again – this time strangling Frank within an inch of his life during a fruity game of tie-up. Suddenly, as Jessan was bucking and wailing, Black Lake almost went full Exorcist, the only thing missing a priest to try and banish the beast from her soul, or whatever priests do during exorcisms. The phrase GÄÄDEK JÄÄMIT, we had been told, meant ‘kill or be killed’ and Jessan, who had had nightmares of strangulation and possessed the dreaded red-eye, took this a bit too literally.
Episode four saw Jessan in full lock-down in her room until the police came, where they found her, her psychosis/possession prompting her to take her own life in the shower.
This left Hanne to go into full amateur detective mode. I, as well as many viewers, must have been asking that after all this insanity, why on earth did this lot not just take off and go home? I would have scarpered long ago. No, Johan, so intent on buying the place, persuaded everyone to stay. Good luck with that.
Hanne was convinced that after she saw the letter M revealed on the Ouija board, that the person who was haunting them was someone called Mikkel. She paid another trip to the retired detective Broman, who revealed the dead kids’ names – not Mikkel – and that Helgesen, although thought drowned by his own hand, was never found.
We ended the episode with Hanne finding – thanks to a supernatural intervention and a folder more or less flying off a shelf into her lap – another, secret, boarded-up room in the cellar. Could the secrets about Mikkel be hidden in there? Was the new room something to do with the old sanitorium on which the hotel was built? Probably.
These two episodes were just terrific, and I totally went with them. They were well plotted, well acted and creepy, leaving us with pitch-perfect cliffhangers at the end of each episode. And the benefit of watching two episodes back-to-back meant that the plot moved along nicely, and once again felt like you had watched a movie. Yes, there were still questions – will Osvald and his red eye be the next person to flip out? Are the ghostly goings on in the lodge more to do with Dag and Jostein’s campaign of intimidation than anything to do with the restless spirits of children? – but this is proving to be a fun watch.
For our episodes one and two review, go here