FALCON LAKE (Kingston Canadian FF2023) – Review by Rachel West

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Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon delivers an assured and confident first feature with her summer coming-of-age tale, Falcon Lake.

Screening as part of the recent Kingston Canadian Film Festival and nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best First Feature, Falcon Lake is first and foremost about a teen summer romance, but filmed with all the aesthetics of a horror movie.

Based on a graphic novel by Bastien Vives and set in Quebec’s cottage country, the French-language Falcon Lake is an immersive and believable story about not-quite 14-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) and his cottage roommate-by-circumstance, 16-year-old Chloe (Sara Monpetit). At an awkward time in their lives when a three-year age gap can feel oceans apart, the two family friends are thrust together when their parents share a cottage for the summer.

At first, Chloe is a classic 16-year-old girl, wary of the “kid” Bastien and his little brother. But, driven by summertime boredom, soon bonds with the young teen as hormones begin to drive their decisions. Obsessed with death and ghost stories, Chloe perpetuates the ghastly story of a drowning victim in the lake, convincing herself and others that the tale is a true one. Far from your average “goth”, one of Chloe’s past times is to dress up as a ghost in a white sheet or pretend to be a corpse in a lakeside photo shoot. Eager to be noticed, Bastien buys into it all as Chloe grows tired of the older and more sexually mature boys at the lake for the summer. Flirting with horror elements and the supernatural throughout, young Bastien’s summer is one where his biggest worries are the universally familiar one about whether your crush likes you back and whether or not the ghost of the lake is real.

Canada’s national cinema is full of coming-of-age stories but Le Bon, who adapted the screenplay, offers something more precise and exquisite here. Built around quiet moments of reflection under cloudy skies, a dark undercurrent runs through Falcon Lake. Looming over its exceptional young performers is an undeniable tension and threat that this precarious balance will be shattered at a moment’s notice. The haunting score by Shida Shahabi swells to perfection as the dark lake shimmers beyond the dock, further hammering home this notion.

Le Bon maintains this dark dynamic and mood throughout Falcon Lake, which first debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. There isn’t a single misstep here which is remarkable for a first-time director. Le Bon seems to derive pleasure from teasing the elements of terror, indulging in a few jump scares and foreboding shots of shady trails through the woods.

Both nominated for Canadian Screen Awards for their performances, Monpetit and Engel are superb. They effortlessly navigate the fine line that exists on the cusp between childhood and adulthood where dressing up as a ghost and sharing an ice cream in bed happens at the same time as budding sexual urges and swigging wine from a stolen bottle at a bonfire party can occur. Engel plays Bastien as funny and awkward but also totally self-assured when he’s included in the group of older teen boys at the lake. It makes sense as to why the long-haired Chloe, who enjoys her share of attention from the older boys, would gravitate to Bastien. Glances, caresses, and moments of quiet are exchanged between the two actors that speak volumes about the shaky nature of a summer friendship tied to a specific place and time. You can almost imagine their end-of-summer goodbyes full of vague promises to “keep in touch”.

In a year with some exceptional and highly-lauded Canadian feature films, Falcon Lake is a true standout.

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Rachel West

Based in Toronto, Rachel is a Senior Film Critic at ThatShelf.com. She has interviewed everyone from Michael Fassbender to Miss Piggy and has reported live from TIFF, the SAG Awards, Comic-Con, and the Golden Globes, among other events, and has contributed film writing and content to outlets including ET Canada, Telefilm, Global News, The National Post, Cineplex Magazine, and Letterboxd, among others. She is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter: @rachel_is_here