Review: Hochet and Pastor Turn Character-Centric Found Footage On It’s Head In ‘Stéphane’
Cleverly dropping viewers into the film within the film, Timothée Hochet and Lucas Pastor’s debut feature Stéphane opens mid-scene as an up and coming director named Timothée (Bastien Garcia delivering a perfectly nuanced debut feature performance) shoots his latest action-packed, espionage short. He and his actors are interrupted by a peculiar man named Stéphane (Lucas Pastor himself, unrecognizable under makeup) who after a dispute ends up creating an explosion effect that rattles the actors so much they leave the set. It’s when Timothée is left alone with Stéphane that the central conceit starts taking hold. Some of the details Stéphane reveals about himself don’t quite add up, which initially comes across as innocent, but by the time he begins verbally assaulting the cashier of a tech shop it’s made clear that he’s an extremely quirky individual who might actually be unstable. Hochet and Pastor emphasize Stéphane’s peculiar nature to the fullest extent with their finite attention to characteristic flairs, such as the neon pink women’s sunglasses Stéphane wears on his head for much of the opening act or his fits of rage sparked by the smallest of inconveniences. The amount of times the viewer will be saying “what the hell?” across this film is countless, and it’s always in service of empowering the character development. The shenanigans that ensue across the afternoon cause Timothée to miss his train, and left without any other options he accepts Stéphane’s offer to drive him home. A few stops later the plan veers into the duo staying at a now tipsy Stéphane’s house for the evening, which Timothée again reluctantly agrees to. Things take a tonally significant shift later that night while Timothée is asleep on the drive and Stéphane disables the car via a highly comedic, well staged shotgun blast, leaving them stranded.
Following a hilarious night mode sequence where they trek through the forest, almost parodying the overdone “lost in haunted woods” found footage films, they encounter a docked boat that Stéphane says is his, and they inhabit for the remainder of the night. Random narrative curve balls such as the reveal that Stéphane lives on an island are a constant in this film, and it’s always believable within the framework of the situation the writers have set up. Stéphane talks Timothée into sitting down for drinks once they’re settled in, claiming that he worked in the effects industry for twenty years and knows some big names in the film world despite struggling to recall specific details yet again. It’s not long before the alcohol takes over entirely though, and they’re planning a prestige war film and singing drunken karaoke together. During this time Timothée has the idea to shift his film project to a documentary on Stéphane, which is revealed through a video diary of sorts. This initial monologue marks the beginning of a trend that spans the rest of the film, where the audience is effectively provided internal thoughts and feelings from Timothée via his private video logs. There’s also a layer of tension present anytime this is happening, since the viewer doesn’t know if Stéphane might overhear Timothée mocking him and become hostile. Following their arrival at Stéphane’s island and questionably large home the next morning, more mysteries arise including the introduction of a third character named Bianca (Eva Gregorieff in her debut and perhaps the most impressive role of the film, delivering a layered silent performance) who appears out of the blue and is treated in a way that immediately raises concern for her safety.
Across their next few days together ample nuance is given to these characters through a clever script that knows just how absurd to get without ever feeling unbelievable, and is actualized by performers who do a phenomenal job of making the exchanges feel authentic no matter how awkward the situation gets. The juggling of tone between funny and tense remains excellently balanced right up until the final act, where a final reveal shatters the viewer’s perception of the entire film in an unprecedented way. Alone this reveal wouldn’t mean nearly as much but given how bought in the audience is by this point in the film, the twist feels completely earned which empowers it greatly. There’s homages scattered throughout the film to some of the finest character study in-world camera outings, but this was clearly most inspired by Patrick Brice’s Creep (2010) and Creep 2 (2017) in how it shifts tonally throughout the brisk seventy-eight minute runtime while consistently raising the stakes. There’s a few cuts that don’t make sense given the technical framing but aside from that there’s very little in the way of missteps present in Stéphane. Hochet and Pastor have created a highly authentic, culturally unique narrative that closes out in a way that’s sure to both satisfy and surprise. If you like jump scares and paranormal entities, this isn’t the found footage you’re looking for, but if you enjoyed the aforementioned titles or films such as The Andy Baker Tape (2022) then Stéphane is certainly going to be a shot of vodka you’ll want to take when it finds distribution following the current festival run.