Published Jan 16, 2014A slow-burn erotic thriller that keeps steadily tightening the noose around the viewer's throat, the tension in Stranger By The Lake is fueled by the blinding power of lust. Using just three main characters and one gorgeous beachside locale, it spins a web of complex and twisted motivations that begin to generate inevitable friction on their own. By establishing the rhythms and routine of the setting, the building suspense is grounded with a disarming air of authenticity.
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) returns to a prime spot he has found to cruise for men beside a picturesque lake, where the only remote concern is the size of the sea life lurking beneath the surface of the water. He lounges out on the sand in the nude with other gay men, goes for long swims and occasionally retreats to the nearby woods where sex acts are performed as discreetly as possible while others all around are doing the same.
He meets Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao) sitting by himself on some rocks next to the lake, an overweight man who has recently separated from his wife and doesn't seem to know why he finds himself there on a regular basis except that he enjoys it. Then Franck lays eyes on Michel (Christophe Paou) one day on the beach and he's instantly attracted to him, even though Michel appears to have a boyfriend. When Franck witnesses Michel drown this boyfriend in the lake one night, it still doesn't deter Franck from pursuing a sexual relationship with him and evading the questions of an inspector that soon comes sniffing around.
While the sex scenes are quite explicit, they do help explain why Franck might be willing to overlook Michel's terrible actions. It's rather painful to watch as Franck wriggles his way deeper in love with a man who isn't even willing to spend any time with him away from the secluded beach.
The ending may be frustrating to some in its ambiguity, but the real pleasure here is in the journey, not the destination. Mining the uncertainty and anticipation that comes from waiting for the other shoe to drop, the most nail-biting moments come when it appears as if an embrace could instantly turn deadly.
There's a certain amount of delusion at work in every romance. As Stranger By the Lake proves, how easily it's capable of clouding otherwise sound judgment can be absolutely terrifying.