Young man looking out over the lake, from Stranger By The Lake

Gay Netflix Review: Stranger by the Lake

What do you do when you see a man kill someone at a cruising spot?  Why, try to date him, of course.  That’s the central conceit of this French gay thriller.  Our boy Franck, a nice handsome young man, is a regular at the nude beach at a lake in France.  Most of his afternoons are spent there relaxing and chatting up some of the other men at the beach (yes, there’s a ton of nudity), and every once in a while sneaking off into the bushes with someone (including a couple of really graphic scenes that I’m surprised made it onto Netflix).

All is fun in the sun until one day he observes two men from a distance as they splash around a bit in the water, and then, ya know, one murders the other by holding his head underwater.  Franck’s motivations after this are a bit opaque in a French film sort of way, but for a while it works to create tension.  Instead of immediately turning him in to the police, Franck is intrigued with the sexy man with an ’80s pornstache and tries to get close to him.  He knows very well how dangerous the man is but is drawn to him anyway.

Franck avoiding telling the police anything

As a thriller, most of it works pretty well… until near the end.  Because, you see, this is not a simple thriller, but an extremely unsubtle morality play about the dangers of bareback sex.  It is made clear that our protagonist has unprotected sex and we are to draw a line from this behavior to his other potentially self-destructive behavior.  And at some point the Moral of the Story takes over and leaves the thriller behind.  Though the tension of a thriller remains, the story abandons the logic and character motivation of a thriller and wanders deeper into allegory.  The end does not make sense unless we have this moral in mind.

And here’s where I get annoyed.  The implication is: unprotected sex equals HIV and HIV equals death, so if you have risky sex it’s the same as dating a serial killer.  Not exactly a nuanced position to take and potentially harmful if it adds to the problem of HIV stigmatization.  To be fair, I’m not sure if I’m oversimplifying its message or if its message is oversimple, but either way I felt lectured.

The film-making itself is good, though, and there are moments of real suspense.  I just wish it didn’t drown me in its dubious message.

3.5 / 5

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