I don’t make it a habit of watching pornography. I mean, I won’t lie, I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen all kinds of it, but it’s always a more ‘spur of the moment’ decision and never something that I make plans to see. I certainly never pay for it, and I certainly never watch it for its story (I fast-forward that mess). But, I remember a time when I was in my teens when I would actively seek out movies for their nude scenes. I mean, I think most every teen has done this. They even have entire websites dedicated to alerting you to the films and exact moments where a celebrity bares all. I’ve cruised those sites and I then visited Blockbuster (remember those?) with a list.
I’m always open to a little (or a lot) of skin.
The difference with this and ‘porn’ is that I expect that this skin is backed up with an interesting story. So, when tuning in to watch ‘Stranger by the Lake’, I was well aware of the large amounts of nudity and explicit sex (I’m an equal opportunity player here, I’ve made that clear before) but I was also under the impression that the film had a story.
It does not.
I have so many swirling issues with a film like ‘Stranger by the Lake’, so deciding where to start in the context of a review is difficult. I guess I could map out the film’s plot first, which will take all of three seconds. Franck is cruising the gay side of a lake, looking for a hookup when he meets Henri, a fat and lonely man who sits alone awaiting someone to talk to. They become friends. Then Franck sees Michel, an attractive and mysterious man and he’s hooked. When Franck literally watches Michel murder someone at the lake, he becomes even more entranced and delves deep into a sexual relationship, despite the police swarming the scene looking for answers to the murder.
The problem with this is that none of this is even remotely interesting. The sex, violence and suspense are just dull.
There are literally two things that I enjoyed about this film. Patrick D'Assumçao is really, really good as Henri. His scenes with Pierre Deladonchamps (who plays Franck) are the only glimpses into any sort of backstory or point to this film, but they are sadly too few. Also, the final frames, that climax (pun intended) is exceptionally directed.
The heap of praise that this film has received has baffled me a bit. I’ve debated this with some friends who don’t feel as I do, and I still cannot bring myself to get their point, even though I kind of want to (who wants to be the odd man out). Still, as much as they defend this, I find myself more and more convinced that it doesn’t work. I am one who often praises minimalism, but ‘Stranger by the Lake’ is so minimalist that it basically goes absolutely nowhere. The first half just hangs there pointlessly, doing nothing to really propel or even build a real story. When the murder happens, it all feels so unimportant, and the way that the film just keeps moving forward only cements that. But then, when the body is found and it feels like maybe something is going to pick up, the film doesn’t feel even remotely concerned with making it all work. I just didn’t go anywhere for me. It just meandered meaninglessly and felt so hollow.
The direction felt so lazy, but maybe that is the wrong word. Underdeveloped? Unformulated?
I guess maybe if the suspense that so many have noted were there, I would have reacted better to this film, but I never felt remotely moved (in any way) by any of this (outside of Henri). Everything just seemed to hang there lifelessly. So many have noted suspense building in the moment when Franck follows Michel into the lake, but I felt nothing. Nothing felt delved into, and I don't mean from a "let's play ominous music and have an intense action scene" but I never felt like these were even real characters. I took something away from Henri’s fate, and at least he made me ponder, but outside of him (and he was not the focal point so there was a lot outside of him) I just couldn’t muster a care.
But someone told me that this movie is about HIV, and like, with all the careless, unprotected sex going on, it makes sense in a way, but not in a way that makes me reevaluate the movie itself.
So, I give this a D, or something like that. Like, it had promise or potential, and that can be seen in scenes here and there, but overall the ball was dropped pretty hard with this one.