Movies, by their very nature, are artifice. Films are scripted, so conversations that may sound natural or spontaneous, are in fact anything but. The action is staged and edited, so they move energetically, but not realistically. The trick to making any movie then is the suspension of disbelief. More accurately, I suppose, making the audience not even realize that they are suspending anything at all; being so enraptured with the story and characters, with the way it presents itself all casting a spell. Enter Porcupine Lake, from writer-director Ingrid Veninger.
Bea (Charlotte Salisbury), a sheltered 13-year-old, moves to Timmins, Ontario with her parents. Scotty (Christopher Bolton), and Ally (Delphine Roussel), her father and mother, now run the restaurant Bea’s grandpa owned before passing on. It is the summer, so the town sees an uptick in visitors, as it is settled right long Porcupine Lake. However, they will be heading back to Toronto once school starts up.
One not so special day, Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall) enters the restaurant, wherein she and Bea share an instant connection. They explore the woods surrounding the town and lake, Bea meets Kate’s family, including her older brother Romeo (Harrison Tanner), whose uncontrollable rage gets the best of him at times. As the two grow closer, Bea notices her parents are drifting further apart. Caught between the increasing pull of the too cool to care Kate and needs of her family, Bea is hesitant about the future.
“Caught between the increasing pull of the too cool to care Kate and needs of her family…”
Ingrid Veninger started off as an actress in 1984 and has built a steady career there, appearing in dozens upon dozens of TV shows and movies, to this very day. In 2003 she began going behind the camera, writing, and directing shorts and full-length features. The only project I was even remotely familiar before Porcupine Lake was the independent horror film Re-generation, which she wrote. I was not particularly fond of that title, so this new coming of age drama hit me like a ton of bricks.
Make no mistake about it, Porcupine Lake is a masterstroke from start to finish in every way. The dialogue has a natural rhythm and flow to it, so every character sounds authentic; especially Kate and Bea. Kate has much more of an idea of how the world works, having to grow up a bit faster thanks to a mom constantly not around, an older brother with issues, and younger siblings to safeguard. So when she asks “Geez Bea, don’t you know anything?” it does not come across as mean, but more confusion over not knowing what Kate considers common knowledge.
For her part, Bea is looking to no longer cling to the childhood fantasies of innocence she knows but is smart enough to realize that acknowledging that also acknowledges the problems between her parents. Her arc is mesmerizing and feels like a natural development for the intelligent yet reserved girl.
“…this is a movie that lives and dies by its acting…”
Of course, part of that is the fantastic performances from the young thespians. Charlotte Salisbury makes it clear that Bea’s quietness is not so much shyness in nature; instead, she is absorbing her surroundings, noticing everything. Lucinda Armstrong Hall is a glorious mix of ferocity and determination. She oozes charisma, so Bea being drawn into Kate’s orbit is an inevitable outcome. Most importantly though, their chemistry is an explosion. They fit together like puzzle pieces, apparently giving the other person what they need most. If either Hall or Salisbury weren’t cast in the movie, it would not be near as an involving watch as it becomes. They are perfect in their roles.
Not to suggest the other cast members rest on their laurels, quite the opposite. Bolton imbues Scotty with an intense amount of bubbly fun. As the movie progresses and more comes to light about the character, seeing that mask fade away is dramatic in all the right ways. After a birthday party for a friend, Bea’s dad has had “too much fun” and winds up drunk on the floor. This peeling back of his carefree attitudes, especially in front of Bea is remarkable. Roussel may very well have the trickiest role of them all. Bea’s mom, Ally, at first glance appears to be a domineering ice queen who does not want Bea to have any fun. She hesitates at her daughter’s request to hang out with her new found friend. It is odd at first, but it is revealed that Bea is emotionally supporting Ally, to a degree, as Scotty acts out.
Porcupine Lake is a brutally honest coming of age film, whose ending is a gut punch of raw emotions. The brilliant screenplay and subtle directing are compelling and engaging. However, this is a movie that lives and dies by its acting. Thankfully the cast is up to the challenge, with everyone delivering remarkable performances. The standouts are the two leads, Salisbury and Hall, who should look forward to long and fruitful careers based on their work here.
Porcupine Lake (2018) Directed by Ingrid Veninger. Written by Ingrid Veninger. Starring Charlotte Salisbury, Lucinda Armstrong Hall, Christopher Bolton, Delphine Roussel.
10 Gummi Bears (out of 10)