Film Review: Porcupine Lake at Melbourne Queer Film Festival

It’s debatable as to whether Porcupine Lake can be correctly categorised as an LGBT movie. Director Ingrid Veninger’s coming of age tale charts a summer spent in the Canadian countryside between two young girls, too old to be called children, yet too young to be classified as approaching adulthood. The early stages of puberty are among the most turbulent periods of anybody’s life, with emotions intensified due to the fact you’re vividly experiencing them for the first time. With this in mind, Veninger deliberately makes the very nature of the relationship between her two central characters open to interpretation; they’re either grappling with their newfound sexuality for the first time, or are friends with disparate life paths who form an intense bond due to the alienation of their dawning teenage years.

Porcupine Lake

Charlotte Salisbury plays Bea, a young girl from Toronto spending the summer with her parents in remote Northern Ontario, where they now own a diner. Spending the nights alone at home reading instead of making friends, her parents are concerned about her loneliness – until she meets Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), a local girl with a depressing home life that has led her to believe she’s adopted. Both feel disenfranchised by their surroundings, and instantly become best friends, a bond which only intensifies as the summer goes on.

This is Charlotte Salisbury’s debut screen performance, and manages to hold the film together due to how her quietly affecting turn acts as both an audience surrogate, and a catalyst to anchor the characters around her. She’s so believable as the timid Bea, that it isn’t until the film’s third act (when she spends time apart from Kate) that the disparity between the age of the character and the actress playing the role becomes apparent. For films which deal with sexuality populated with younger characters, casting a young adult and effectively ageing them down via costuming and make-up isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that, for the most part, Salisbury completely sinks into her role, making you believe the character before you even recognise the actress playing her.

The performance is especially effective when you realise Lucinda Armstrong Hall, the actress playing Kate, is closer to the age of the character she’s playing than Salisbury, yet Salisbury still believably portrays herself as the comparatively naive and unknowledgeable personality of the two friends. This is likely because the leading role is written as a shy character, where the emotional scars of her home life are either concealed or yet to be presented to the wider world. The character of Kate, on the other hand, is dealing with aggressive, indifferent siblings and a parental figure who seemingly couldn’t care less about her presence – a much showier role by default.

The overcrowded, working class home shared by Kate and her family (as well as their forceful personalities) bears some similarities to Sean Baker’s widely acclaimed The Florida Project, although with an easier route to audience empathy for the younger character living amidst the squalor. However, this is a considerably more understated film than that in-your face and (if I’m being honest) overrated effort. Imagine the social commentary of that film crossed with the sensitive, summer-spanning coming of age charms of a film like Princess Cyd, and you’ve accurately imagined Porcupine Lake.

Whether or not its about an intense friendship, or a relationship between two confused young girls, Porcupine Lake is an impressive drama about two characters caught between childhood and a forever elusive emotional maturity. With heartfelt and achingly real performances from its central actresses, this low-key coming of age tale is one of the best hidden delights to emerge from the recent LGBT festival circuit.

3 stars

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of pUNK Films

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Alistair Ryder
Alistair (member of GALECA, the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics' Association) is a 22 year old former journalism student from the sun-soaked city of Leeds, England, who has recently moved to Cambridge. He has been writing about film since the start of 2014, at Cut Print Film, editor over at Film Inquiry and is also a regular contributor to the "Bums on Seats" movie review show on Cambridge 105 FM.
Alistair Ryder

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Writer: @FilmInquiry, @GayEssential, @thedigitalfix. @DorianAwards member. Want to commission me to write for you? Then email: alistair@filminquiry.com
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