Set amidst a lone location and featuring a limited number of characters, Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake is an erotic mystery that leaves little to the imagination. An all-male cast allows the film to integrate crime with the anonymity of "cruising" but will leave many viewers turned off by its determination to scream "porn" louder than any degree of suspense.
Pierre Deladonchamps and Christphe Paou give decent enough performances, embodying their surface characters with mere satisfaction. But their lackluster dialogue prevents them from making something of their roles, instead resorting to the mundane, repetitive life that many work to escape. And while both integrate themselves within the scene, neither demand your attention as they fail to ignite and give you anything worth caring about.
The mystery itself plays a backseat to the unavoidable porn that unfolds before our very eyes. I try to credit the shock and awe of everything to culture differences as the film was shot in France where witnessing a man ejaculate on camera after a quick hand job isn't as out of sorts as it is in the States. But even the sex and nudity aside, the film isn't good as it fails to materialize and offer up anything remotely unique or original--other than giving us a terrifying example of blind love.
The crime, preformed almost in passing, lacked any real suspense or unnerving moment as our lead protagonist, Frank, watches from afar. The next day Frank introduces himself to Michael, the killer. Sex follows, and the entire incident is practically wiped under the rug, long forgotten. It isn't until an investigator shows up thirty minutes later and taps the two men as his leading suspects that we are reminded about the secondary plot point.
The film progresses much like a French film, laden in characterization and story development, there are simply no extremes used to capture your attention. While I appreciate the authentic approach, Stranger by the Lake failed to give us a story or characters to be interested in. Gay men cruising a lake with a murder occurring late one night doesn't constitute a near two hour feature film. Hell, it hardly constitutes a mention at all. But Alain Guiraudie uses it to craft an extensive gay porn film. Better acting wouldn't have helped the overall picture, but a little bit of direction would have taken the focus off of the sex and placed it where it belonged, the murder.