Review: ‘Falcon Lake,’ starring Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit

June 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit in “Falcon Lake” (Photo courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

“Falcon Lake”

Directed by Charlotte Le Bon

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada’s Laurentides, Québec, the dramatic film “Falcon Lake,” loosely based on Bastien Vivès’ 2017 graphic novel “Une Sœur (A Sister)”, features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While spending time at a remote lake house compound with their families, two teenagers have a tentative romance amid stories that the nearby lake might be haunted by a menacing ghost. 

Culture Audience: “Falcon Lake” will appeal primarily to people who like watching dramatic movies where the intended impact isn’t immediately apparent and slowly sneaks up on viewers.

Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit in “Falcon Lake” (Photo courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures)

“Falcon Lake” is an atmospheric drama that effectively shows the parallels of experiencing mysterious horror and experiencing teenage angst over love and romance. It’s a ‘”slow burn” movie with good acting performances from Joseph Engel and Sara Montpetit. “Falcon Lake” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

Written and directed by Charlotte Le Bon (who has an established career as an actress), “Falcon Lake” is loosely based on Bastien Vivès’ graphic novel 2017 “Une Sœur (A Sister),” which was set in France. “Falcon Lake,” which is Le Bon’s feature-film directorial debut, takes place in a remoted wooded location in Laurentides, Québec, Canada. It’s not the type of movie that should be considered a real horror flick, just because there’s a ghost story element to the film. There are hints of horror that are left purposely vague, until the mystery is solved at the very end.

The more unsettling tone in the “Falcon Lake” isn’t about the paranormal but about the frustration felt by the teenage male protagonist, who is kept on edge over how he’s going to handle his crush on an older teenage girl. “Falcon Lake” is told from his perspective. His name is Bastien (played by Engel), who is 13 years old and will soon turn 14.

In the beginning of the movie, Bastien has arrived at a vacation rental home compound with his mother Violette (played by Monia Chokri), his father Romaine (played by Arthur Igual) and Bastien’s brother Titi (played by Thomas Laperriere), who’s about 4 or 5 years old. It’s the first time that the family is staying at this vacation place. This family of four will soon meet two other people who are sharing living quarters at the compound: single mother Louise (played by Karine Gonthier-Hyndman) and her 16-year-old daughter Chloé (played by Montpetit), who is rebellious and eccentric.

Bastien is immediately smitten with Chloé, who shares the same bedroom as him in this compound. Chloé knows that Bastien is attracted to her, but she doesn’t quite know what to do about her burgeoning relationship with this younger boy. As so, Chloé resorts to teasing Bastien by playing harmless pranks on him, such as sneaking up and startling him when he’s at a dock by the lake. In another incident that’s much more disturbing, Chloé pretends to drown, just to see how Bastien will react.

Chloé and Bastien spend a lot of time together at the lake, by themselves and with teenagers who are closer to Chloé’s age. The lake is a symbol for the uncharted waters that Bastien is feeling for the person he hopes will be his first girlfriend. It’s also a symbol for Chloé’s fascination with local folklore that there’s a ghost living in the lake. This ghost supposedly grabs swimmers in the lake and especially likes to target young people.

Not long after they meet, Chloé tells Bastien this ghost story, and she seems disappointed when he barely reacts. Chloé asks Bastien: “Are you scared the ghost might grab you?” Bastien replies, “I don’t believe in ghosts.” He also says that he’s not swimming in the lake because he doesn’t like swimming, due to a near-drowning incident he had when he was younger. But as soon as Bastien says he’s not swimming in the lake, you know that Chloé will get him to change his mind.

Chloé also has a dark side of dabbling in self-harm. She tell Bastien that she sometimes likes to bite her hand until it bleeds. And she shows him how she does it. Later, as a way to impress Chloé, Bastien takes up this habit too. Much of “Falcon Lake” is about Bastien, who is somewhat shy, trying to win over bold and brash Chloé without looking too desperate. The mild flirtation between Chloé and Bastien (such as taking a bath together with their clothes on) might eventually turn into something more.

Bastien is new to the Laurentides are, but Chloé is not. She introduces Bastien to other teens she knows, such as 19-year-old Oliver (played by Anthony Therrien) and Paul (played by Lévi Doré), who smoke cigarettes and drink wine with Chloé. Oliver’s father Bryan (played by Jeff Roop) owns the lake house and is one of the few people in the movie who speaks English only, not French. Bryan, who is seen briefly in the movie, is outgoing and talkative.

The adults in “Falcon Lake” mostly fade into the background of the story, but there are multiple scenes that show Chloé and her mother Louise have a tension-filled relationship. Chloé thinks her mother is a promiscuous gold digger and doesn’t respect her. Louise thinks that Chloé is a rude brat. Chloé’s father is not seen or mentioned in the story.

Chloé’s negative feelings about her mother’s sex life affects her self-esteem in ways that Bastien can’t fully comprehend until he makes a very big mistake. He isn’t emotionally mature enough to pick up the clues, such as when Chloé tells him that Chloé broke up with Chloé’s most recent boyfriend because she wouldn’t do certain sexual things with him, but the ex-boyfriend lied to other people by saying that she did. There’s a pivotal scene where some local teens are having a loud, unsupervised house party, and Bastien gets an unwanted glimpse of Chloé’s life before she met him.

The “horror” aspects of the movie are very subtle and intermittent. Shadowy figures occasionally appear then disappear in a room. There are a few incidents where a teenager in the lake claims to feel unknown hands grabbing the teenager, but the movie shows whether or not it was just a teenage prank. “Falcon Lake” keeps people guessing about what could be supernatural until the last 10 minutes of the film.

“Falcon Lake” director Le Bon capably handles the moody tone of the film, which is a mixture of carefree teenage playfulness and a constant foreboding that something could go terribly wrong at any moment. Engel and Montpetit impressively bring much of the realism required for their roles, but viewers should be warned that “Falcon Lake” might be considered too boring for anyone expecting a typical “people being haunted in a remote area” ghost story. Viewers with the patience to watch “Falcon Lake” until the very end will see the movie in an entirely new way when a secret is revealed.

Yellow Veil Pictures released “Falcon Lake” in select U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on June 13, 2023. “Falcon Lake” was released in Canada on October 14, 2022.

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