Director – Riccardo Paoletti, Screenplay – Carlo Longo, Story – Manuela Cacciamani & Carlo Longo, Producer – Manuela Cacciamani, Photography – Cesare Danese, Music – Riccardo Amorese, Visual Effects – Direct2brain (Supervisor – Nicola Sganga), Special Effects Supervisor – Roberto Ricci, Makeup Effects – Gloria Pescatore, Production Design – Andrea Faini. Production Company – Onemore Pictures/Rai Cinema
Daisy Ann Keeping (Jenny Brooks), David Brandon (David Brooks), Joy Allison Tanner (Olga), Martin Kashirokov (Peter), Eva MacCallum (Malila), Anna Dalton (Maya)
Teenager Jenny Brooks travels from school in England to stay with her father in Tuscany, Italy. He is a former doctor who has retired to pursue an interest in archaeology – he in particular being obsessed with the ancient Etruscans who held the nearby Lake of Idols with a religious reverence, believing that it held secrets of eternal life. After arriving, Jenny is disappointed at the lack of attention from her father who spends all his time locked in his study working. She wanders the lakeside area and meets a group of ill children from a nearby hospital. The children implore her to return and she comes back to read them stories. They also urge her to help free the ancient Etruscan souls in the lake by returning the statuettes that her father has taken.
Neverlake is an Italian-made film (although is shot in English rather than Italian). It was a debut feature for Riccardo Paoletti who had previously only co-directed Cued to Titles (2006), a documentary about Italy’s legendary Cinecitta studio. The film is based around (and uses as location) the real-life Lake of Idols located in the mountainous Casentino region of Tuscany. The lake derives its name from the discovery in the 19th Century of hundreds of bronze statuettes not just of human figures but also of animals and tools, which were believed to be offered up as a ritual sacrifice by the Etruscans during the early days of the Roman Empire.
Neverlake is a film that sits right on the dividing line between professionalism and merely being an ambitious amateur film. Aside from David Brandon, who has a career going back to the heyday of 1980s Italian exploitation films, the other cast members are unknowns who have a bare handful of credits to their names. Nevertheless, you are undeniably impressed from the outset by the far more literary aims of a film that offers up opening quotes from poet Percy Shelley (husband of Mary) who did apparently reside for a time near the Lake of Idols and has a historic place named after him.
Neverlake is professionally produced and quite accomplished – although you do feel that this is a film that would have benefitted immeasurably in terms of atmosphere from a better cinematographer. That said, you are still waiting some way in for it to do something standout to draw you in. What it does have that drives it is an undeniable mysteriousness and suggestions of cryptic happenings going on around Daisy Ann Keeping without fully clueing you into what is happening. There are so many elements playing around the edges of the film – the mysterious ill children in the sanatorium, the father’s experiments in his locked study and cryptic visits to the jeweller, Daisy Ann Keeping’s haunted dreams, the spirits of the dead that are conjured forth from the lake – that you wonder for a long time where all of this is going. The film does bring this together in its eventual revelation of what is happening, which is quite an original and interesting twist. (Although this left me feeling that the Etruscan statuettes and the lake were not that well tied to the explanation, which could well have operated without them).