Monday, January 5, 2015

Indie Review: Stranger By The Lake (2014)

     A 'Lake' Filled With Glimmering Water With Large Stains Of Red
          Whenever people talk about a controversial film that deals with sex that is hardly as risque as it is made out to be, like Shame, Blue Is The Warmest Color, and Breaking The Waves, that is mainly because some of the more riskier films that deal with the topic of sex seem to slip through the cracks. The subject of this film, Stranger By The Lake, is certainly one of those films. Thankfully, like the first three films mentioned, it never lets its content get in the way of its rich, haunting direction and complex storytelling.

      Stranger By The Lake follows the story of a man named Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) who goes to a summer retreat at a lake where many gay men go to cruise. One night, he witnesses two men horseplaying in the lake, but it eventually becomes murder. When he sees the killer Michel (Christoph Paou) come out of the water, he slowly and strangely starts to become infatuated with him.

       I'll start off with the beautiful cinematography by Claire Mathon. I liked how she gave the film a glossy look to sort of counteract with the dark tone the film has. The film showcases a lot of men running around in the nude as if it is an Eden-like paradise, but those colorful shots of this paradise, from the beach to the woods, are deceptive as underneath all that lies the dangers of temptation. As the film progresses from scenes in the daytime, we slowly get to scenes at sundown and night as if we are being led into the daekness underneath and to me, it was quite haunting. The way writer/director Alain Guiraudie crafted this film is rather haunting and others that have reviewed this film said he gives the film a Hitchcockian flare and I couldn't agree more on that. The way the murder scene is shot is from Franck's point of view and from a distance, it slowly becomes Michel's point of view as the horseplay that takes place evolves into something worse. It's kind of like Rear Window where almost everything is shot from the main character's POV except in the murder scene in this, there isn't any cutting. It is all one take. I also have to give props to the sound team. There are moments where there are sounds of nature being woven in with sounds of sexual activity and men panting, which creates this rather intoxicating aura that surrounds the film. It's as if we are as seduced as Franck is.

        Next, I'll get into the performances by the two leads. Pierre Deladonchamps is rather complex as Franck, who is very curious about the mysterious Michel and once he becomes more sexually involved with him, he becomes more physically and emotionall naked while slowly letting his guard down. Christoph Paou is also astounding as Michel as he finds a rather unique balance of both charm and creep. Even though he know he is the culprit, he still has us unsure of what his intentions are.

     To me, it was very interesting how even though we know who the killer is and get the idea of what he has done, it is more about Franck's carnal lust getting the best of him and him wondering how he could be so infatuated with this monster. We, the audience, then ask questions like, "Is he drawn to Michel for his masculinity?" or "Does he get a thrill out of Michel's killing without him realizing it?". The whole line between pleasure and pain starts to become blurred.


        Overall, Stranger By The Lake is an intoxicating thriller that features haunting, Hitchcockian flare under the disguise of a sunny paradise. The cinematography is top-notch, the performances by the two leads are complex and figuratively full-bodied, and the direction by Alain Guiraudie is masterful.

         Would I Recommend It?:
         Not to everybody. It is a well-made film, no doubt about that. But the film is loaded with full-frontal male nudity and scenes of graphic sex. If that bothers you, you will not, I repeat, NOT enjoy this movie. But if all that doesn't bother you, then I would say give it a watch, but if you're older than 18, though.

Grade: A