What is it to be a ghost but to suffer the complete absence of love? Actress Charlotte Le Bon’s arresting directorial debut, Falcon Lake, is a coming-of-age film that melds teenage love stories with gothic horror, but not in an elaborate, over-the-top way. In adapting Bastien Vivès’ 2017 graphic novel, Le Bon has offered an honest story of young love set against a moody, ominous backdrop of a lake rumored to be the watery grave of a long-dead child.
From the beginning, Le Bon establishes that this won’t be your typical “summer catch” story. We’re introduced to 16-year-old Chloé (Sara Montpetit) as she’s floating face down in the water, appearing to our eyes to be quite dead. She pops up, very much alive, after an excruciatingly long pause, the camera never taking its lens off of her. But this is who Chloé is. She has been obsessed with the urban legend of a girl who drowned in the lake, and now walks the Quebec forests as a ghost. At this age, Chloé has all of the jumbled emotions of your typical teen girl. Spirited and adventurous one moment, forlorn the next.
But Chloé is also the oldest child at the vacation retreat where her mom is reunited with a childhood friend. She brings along her 13-year-old son, Bastien (Joseph Engel), a shy, quiet kid not quite ready to be a man but also too old to be hanging out with the kiddies. Chloé doesn’t take much interest in him at first, seeing Bastien as a harmless youngest brother who just happens to be close enough in age. But as he becomes a willing listener to her macabre stories about dead girls in lakes, Chloé takes a liking to him. Soon, she and Bastien are thick as thieves, going to parties with older kids and sneaking around.
Everything about the budding connection between Chloé and Bastien feels natural, a credit both to Le Bon’s screenplay and the authentic portrayals of the cast. That includes the emotional gap caused by the age difference. Bastien is still pretty immature and awkward, and he begins to get a crush on her right away as any boy his age would do. He clams up when older boys are around, making moves on Chloé as if he’s not around. They don’t see him as a romantic rival at all. Why would they? And Chloé is all too eager to play into this. Even at her young age, she’s got enough heartbreak in her past to be cautious, but also to run free.
Shot in mesmerizing 16mm, Falcon Lake balances picturesque summer vibes with the aesthetics of classic slasher movies. It’s a fascinating combination and can shift at a moment’s notice. Eventually, the grim aspects begin to take hold as the story’s full motivation becomes clear, with Le Bon proving in her directorial debut that she’s willing to take bold visual risks. Le Bon occasionally falls into the indie trap of lingering on certain shots for too long, as if by doing so they instantly become meaningful, but for the most part she has already established herself as filmmaker to keep a close watch on. Falcon Lake proves that Le Bon has a courageous spirit behind the camera, and her debut film has a strange beauty that ripples like a rock skipping across the water.
Falcon Lake is open in select theaters now.