Alain Guiraudie’s thriller about a lakeside cruising spot is a magnificently staged, hour and a half of nerve-shredding drama. It is a piece which owes as much to its surroundings as it does to its leading man and the scenic setting does nothing to alleviate the edge of seat tension that Guiraudie creates in this depiction of love and desire.
Stranger by the Lake tells the story of Franck as he visits a cruising spot on the edge of a lake and becomes attracted to one of the men he sees, Michel. Despite the fact that he witnesses said man drowning his previous lover, Franck continues to pursue a relationship with him. Although the crucial event takes place early on in the chronology of the film, the pace remains slow throughout and lulls you into a false sense of security. Despite the murder of someone, life settles immediately back into its familiar rhythm. The contrast between the horrific death and the beautiful surroundings it took place in adds to this feeling of unease, as something far more sinister lurks beneath the edenic scene.
Indeed, in this claustrophobic pastoral, the lake almost becomes its own character. It has the power to bring about the death of someone and it is at its shores that all manner of life takes place. In the same way that we never leave the lake area, the only soundtrack to the film is the sounds of water, rustling trees and insects. Equally the passing of time is marked by the images of the car park and each new day sees Franck pull up in his car, denoting his return.
The end result is a beautifully shot slow-moving atmospheric piece, wonderfully exploring the entanglement of death and desire. It feels at times like it takes a while to get going, and despite a dramatic event early on, the action remains minimal. All this however contributes to the uneasy dramatic irony, and very slow build up which makes the ending what it is. Stranger by the Lake ratchets up the tension for the end and leaves you wanting more making it worth every nail-biting second.