Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Wild Hunt (2009)

At a glance:
A role-playing game turns from sincere acting to deadly bloodletting in first time director Alexandre Franchi’s amazing low-budget tale

Our review (with spoilers):
In a universe of cookie cutter genre pics, The Wild Hunt, small budget and all, stands out. It tells a tale of Evelyn (Kaniehtiio Horn), a young woman who breaks up with her boyfriend Eric (Ricky Mabe) and takes part in a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) game with a bunch of guys who seem to be rougher than usual of these sorts of people. She is a Viking queen, the captured wench of Murtagh (Trevor Hayes), a powerful sorcerer. She’s enjoying herself but is also spurning his advances. It’s like a little mini-holiday for her from her more serious, aborted relationship. When Eric goes in search of her and enters the role-playing world in contemporary clothing, he is surrounded by game players and pelted with unending shouts of "decorum!" until he returns to the entrance and dons the proper gear. He’s not exactly an enthusiastic game player still, but he is singularly dedicated to his rescue mission, and he has the help of his enthusiastic LARPer brother, Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa).

This could have been a light-hearted look at relationships framed within a tame LARP world, but the disruption of the game, combined with a darker side of some of the players, causes the stakes to escalate into life and death. Recited oaths of blood and courage suddenly become real, and the film turns to dark, claustrophobic horror.

I wish I had not known in advance that this film was going to morph from an intense but harmless drama into dark and sporadically violent nightmare. The shock of the change would have been even more intense. As it is, the story at the heart of this tale feels ancient, like a Nordic war fable, and the resolution, though violent, just feels so right. It’s been a long time since pure eye-for-an-eye has made me feel so good inside. The film is far from perfect – Krupa, although good, is sometimes just a bit over the top – but the acting generally is at an extremely high level for a low budget film (partial credit for this must go to director Alexandre Franchi - whenever you see an entire cast of newcomer actors performing at a high level, that usually means someone is helping to ensure this) and this superior acting made the personal stories stay with me long after the credits rolled. Franchi, please do more!

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"First-time feature filmmaker Alexandre Franchi shoots the outdoors amazingly claustrophobically — an almost-oxymoric effect that contributes to the unsettling atmosphere of The Wild Hunt."
- Jim Slotek (Jam! Movies)

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