If you ever watched Broadchurch and thought to yourself that it would be better with French accents, Vanished by the Lake is for you. A mystery involving a missing child, a large body of water and a town full of secrets, it’s a gripping and jaw-dropping slice of chilling crime telly.
Part of what made ITV’s Broadchurch stand out so well from the pack was its sense of location, and Vanished is just as steeped in geographic character. Literally called Le mystère du lac (“the mystery of the lake”), director Jérôme Cornuau earns that title with every frame, capturing the gorgeous region of Vac with a moody tone and an eye for nature that feels so picturesque it just can’t be wholesome.
Framed against it all are the less than perfect humans that make up the town, who all come crawling out of the walls when teenager Chloe (Charlie Joirkin) disappears. We first glimpse her in a cold open, which sees her chased by an unseen figure on a bike – then, nothing. Her absence is only slowly felt by her parents, Karine (Armelle Deutsch) and Hervé (Cyril Lecomte), who go about their daily routines with their other, younger daughter, before noticing that Chloe’s phone is off. It’s only after going through her usual friends that they realise something more sinister might be afoot.
Enter Lise (Barbara Shulz), a Parisian detective who is in town visiting her mother. Lise knows the family and offers to help begin an investigation into Chloe’s whereabouts – starting with a trip the local cops to report her having gone. The result is a parade of familiar crime TV cliches, from the gruff, attractive chief of police (Clovis – Lannick Gautry) to the similar case from decades ago that bears a suspicious similarity to current events.
That, inevitably, turns out to be connected to Lise, whose two best friends also vanished by the lake on the same night (the village fete) 15 years before – and were never found. Could the suspect from that case be the same culprit here? Is Chloe already dead? And can Lise handle digging up the past to find out?
Cornuau, who directed The Passenger (another series on Walter Presents), is adept at quickly driving up tension, and he balances emotional trauma of the haunting past against the raw grief and panic of Chloe’s parents with a sensitive, but precise grasp. The cast, meanwhile, are all convincing as the close-knit community. We dip into the local library for answers, glimpse dreamy flashbacks of Lise’s old friends, and have that hazy collision of past and present subtly echoed by the fact that Lise’s mother has Alzheimer’s. Will Lise annoy the local police, as she attaches herself to their hunt? Will there be twists and turns, as we’ve come to expect from all the crime thrillers about missing children? Of course. But like Broadchurch before it, Vanished by the Lake’s style promises a slick story full of distrust – and the ending of its promising opening episode screams with the agony of an open wound. At only six episodes, the result is ideal for a swift winter’s box set binge.
Vanished by the Lake premieres at 10pm on Channel 4 on Wednesday 13th December. The whole box set is then available on All 4.