"Stranger By the Lake," a thriller about illicit sex and murder, has a limited release Friday. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following review for NY1.
"Stranger by the Lake" is an ingenious French thriller set entirely on a rocky stretch of beach and its adjoining woods, where gay men come to sunbathe and cruise. The central character, Franck, played by Pierre Deladonchamps, is like a hunkier version of the young Roddy McDowall. He's hungry for sex, but not with just anyone. Franck wants to be transported, moved to the place where unbridled pleasure melts into love. That's why he can't stop himself from going after Michel, a handsome dude with a Tom Selleck mustache, even after he sees Michel drown his latest lover.
"Stranger by the Lake" is voyeuristic, all right, but in a way that evokes the Alfred Hitchcock of "Rear Window" more than it does William Friedkin's "Cruising." We get to know the intimate geography of this cruising spot, which is at once hidden and out in the open. And the film lingers, sometimes explicitly, on random erotic encounters, the camera peering through the dense woods, surveying the hookups without judgment. There's also a tersely amusing police inspector who looks at these cruisers with seen-it-all sympathy. It's precisely because he's not homophobic that he's able to put the pieces of the murder together.
"Stranger by the Lake" is moody and suspenseful, but the film's weak link is Franck's insistence on hiding his lover's crime, which works better as metaphor than as plausible drama. That's why the movie, for all its skill, isn't as screw-tightening as it could be. Yet "Stranger from the Lake" is a real conversation piece, because when you leave it, you know that you've been someplace scary and real.