FALCON LAKE l Brooklyn Horror

Just before the BHFF screening of FALCON LAKE, the gorgeous directorial debut by Charlotte Le Bon, a representative from the festival introduced the movie as one that stretched the boundaries of what it means to be a traditional horror film. That audience members should adjust their expectations accordingly.

It reminded me of how greatly I dislike having to pigeonhole movies into categories. Being forced to assign labels based on some preconceived notions about what we should be looking for in the media we consume bores the shit out of me. It’s a conversation that I hear a lot within the horror community especially, and it’s one I find, more often than not, incredibly reductive. Horror is a tremendously malleable genre, spanning a wide emotional and thematic range. Why the need for such restrictions? A far more interesting topic of conversation would be discussing what could classify as horror. Imagine what kind of discourse that would create.

While watching it, one can understand why this “warning” was included in the film’s festival introduction. To approach FALCON LAKE with the assumption that it’s a horror movie will almost certainly lead to disappointment for some viewers. But writing it off based on that alone would mean writing off one of the most unique, haunting experiences I’ve had this year.

I love this movie.

Courtesy Brooklyn Horror

Bastien (Joseph Engel) is a French pre-teen who, along with his parents and younger brother, spends one pivotal summer at a Quebec lake house owned by family friends. This includes sixteen-year-old Chloe (Sara Montpetit) with whom Bastien quickly strikes up a friendship. Chloe is carefree and sociable, often partying with the other older kids in the area. But she also has an active imagination. Chloe’s convinced that the lake is haunted by a ghost who drowns unsuspecting swimmers. Bastien, afraid of swimming since he almost drowned as a young boy, seems to connect with Chloe’s story, while all of her other friends dismiss it as childish. This story of hers plays a background character to what is otherwise an enchanting, chilling story of growing up, facing your fears, and falling in love. This talk of ghosts and drowning, combined with the cloudy, atmospheric visual aesthetic, combine to create an ever-looming sense of unease.

Visually, cinematographer Kristof Brandl utilizes the natural light of the lake to give the film its beautifully murky look. Sometimes it can feel a bit dim on the eyes and difficult to make out the environment, though I imagine it was likely an intentional choice. It reminded me of my years at summer camp as a Boy Scout and what it feels like to walk through the woods without a flashlight. The music here is sparse but incredibly effective when it’s featured, especially during a few key scenes in the third act.

This atmosphere helps a great deal to set apart a familiar coming-of-age story. A young boy experiencing the whirlwind of romance during summer vacation is classic stomping ground at this point. And there are even a few sequences that are reminiscent of some of the more notable entries in the genre. But Le Bon is going for something a little different here. The edges surrounding the story are slightly darker than what we’ve come to expect. Throughout our time with these characters and seeing as their friendships evolve, we as viewers are constantly being poked by this lingering feeling that something is very off. As if this perfect summer memory could ignite into flames at any minute.

You could say that’s what first love feels like, in a way. It’s an indescribable sensation that you know deep down can’t last forever, no matter how badly you may want it to.

Courtesy Brooklyn Horror

Engel and Montpetit are superb. Their relationship is the beating heart of FALCON LAKE and the film would simply not work without their chemistry as performers. The supporting cast lends their talents nicely here too. Any of us with memories of being kids who hung out with older teens doing stupid shit will certainly feel represented. Stories involving youth, no matter what the age may be, is a challenging feat in any medium, but Le Bon and company make it seem easy along the way.

It takes time for FALCON LAKE to fully reveal itself, but when it does, we’re left with an absorbing, rewarding finale. No other film at BHFF has remained with me more than this one and I suspect there are others out there who will be enraptured by it as well.

It’s a confident take on the genre that understands and captures the side effects of growing up. It’s emotional, complicated, sad, messy, funny, and exhilarating. Oh, and scary.

FALCON LAKE had its East Coast premiere at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on October 15, 2022.

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