Stranger By The Lake wastes no time in setting out its idyllic look and terrifying premise. A gay cruising spot in the woods adjoining the lake of the title means men from all walks of life come here to either observe or engage in commitment free sex. But when Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a regular at the lake, meets Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao) he spells out the tone for the entire film. For beneath its stunning, sun reflecting surface lurks a breed of catfish, called silurus, which is rumoured to grow up to 15 feet long in these waters.
There is no Jaws on offer though, instead man is the most deadly predator at the lake and Franck soon meets alpha-male Michel (Christophe Paou), a bronzed Adonis who glides through the water as if in a dream. Franck is drawn to him but after witnessing a sinister act in the lake and a body turning up Franck finds himself both fascinated and increasingly attracted to the potentially dangerous Michel.
Director Alain Guiraudie captures everything in a heat haze of passion and slow-burn tension. The pacing is intentionally lethargic, as if the warmth of the summer and lust in the woods some how slows time. The dialogue is softly spoken injecting sexual energy that can, and often will, morph into something else. But more than anything Guiraudie finds a way to make the sumptuous visuals resonate with both sides of this stunning thriller; the sexual attraction combined with the ever-lurking danger. Like All The Boys Love Mandy Lane of Picnic At Hanging Rock Stranger By The Lake infuses the tranquility of summer decadence with a genuinely chilling atmosphere.
The film is an examination of risk and how danger has an intrinsic attractive quality to it. It’s established early on that Franck is not one to play it safe, happily going about his promiscuous sexual adventure without regard for protection. When Michel shows an interest, that risk is taken to erotic new levels and ones that seem to only heighten Franck’s attraction.
But it is in Franck’s relationship with Henri that Stranger By The Lake finds key warmth that is otherwise lacking in the romance between him and Michel. Henri, played with depressing pathos by D’Assumçao, longs for Franck’s company but never his physical love. The pair attract gossip around the lake about their relationship but both make it clear they want nothing more from each other than the companionship and ear they lend each other. It is the polar opposite to Franck’s affair with Michel which is primarily physical, Michel the muscular ying to Henri’s tubby yang.
Brimming with psychosexual tension, genuine affection and a blistering image of the perfect summer, Stranger By The Lake is an atmospheric, erotically charged and always immersive watch.
EXTRA FEATURES: Alternative Ending3 Deleted Scenes2 Short Films by Alain Guiraudie (Les Heros, Tout Driot)Interview with DirectorInterview with Cast ***Making The PosterCannes Film Festival SpecialBFI London Film Festival Q&A ***
(*** denotes exclusive to UK Release)