Review by Alan French
Since the release of Stranger Things, the coming-of-age paranormal story has come back into vogue. While the 1980s were filled with Fright Nights, Monster Squads, and Goonies, the 1990s and 2000s were all but barren. The return of the subgenre certainly offers a lot for moviegoers who are looking to feel teen melodrama blended with light horror themes. In the case of Falcon Lake, we are unable to embrace either side fully. With a messy structure and an odd reliance on a paranormal tale, this coming-of-age story does little to satisfy fans of either form.
Directed by Charlotte Le Bon, Falcon Lake follows two teens looking to enjoy their summer. Bastien (Joseph Engel) serves as our gateway into the community. His parents bring him to the titular lake for the summer, and we observe most of the story through his eyes. Shortly after arriving, Bastien meets Chloé (Sara Montpetit). The two may be the same age, but Chloé draws the attention of the older boys on vacation. Bastien and Chloé’s relationship develops in the shadow of the summer, and haunting stories of ghosts on the lake.
The blending of two genres creates natural obstacles to overcome. In Falcon Lake’s case, the teen coming-of-age angst makes it difficult to buy into other aspects of the film. However, there seems to be a lack of commitment from Le Bon and the writing team to bring out the supernatural elements of the narrative. This may stem from the graphic novel Une Soeur, written by Bastien Vives. That story focuses far more on the sexual awakening between its two protagonists, and Falcon Lake follows suit. However, introducing the ghost and metaphysical aspects of the story also requires some payoff. In this version, that story falls short.
Le Bon certainly tries to tie in the paranormal in interesting ways. While much of the film draws its visual language from the graphic novel (including shots and situations straight from the book), there are some departures. Early in the film, we’re introduced to Chloé via silhouette, but as our protagonist sleeps. The image bears more resemblance to The Ring or Satan’s Slave than to a typical teen introduction. When we return to the room in the morning, the silhouette is gone, leading to a temporary sequence where the audience begins to question what it saw. Sadly, there is not enough ambiguity in these scenes to increase the tension.
The teen coming-of-age story offers most of the memorable moments. As Chloé proves more adventurous than Bastien, he attempts to step outside of his comfort zone. These sequences are relatable, especially when he receives comparisons to the other boys in town. Both his age and affection level seem more in line with Chloé’s wishes, yet the other boys circle them both like sharks. There’s an uneasiness in that tension, opening the audience to worry about Chloé even when she’s not on screen. To say she’s a flirt may be an understatement, but she also never promises or owes him anything.
Le Bon intends to make Chloé a manic pixie dream girl with agency. While this helps make Chloé a more realized character, it also invites frustrations with Bastien. It becomes obvious that he is a typical teenage boy, more obsessed with his own reputation for scoring with girls than telling the truth. Whether he means to or not, he puts Chloé in a difficult position with her friends, all because of his own inadequacies. We’ve seen stories like this unfold, and that begins to make Falcon Lake feel less original as a result.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Falcon Lake, there are few moments of pure entertainment as well. The teen elements do not hit as personally as one would hope, and the paranormal subplot feels more like a bad twist to wrap around the tale. With some additional pacing issues and shallow side characters, we are left with a slightly substandard teen drama.
Falcon Lake screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 8-18.