Review: The Wild Hunt (15) / Directed by: Alexandre Franchi / Screenplay by: Mark Anthony Krupa, Alexandre Franchi / Starring: Ricky Mabe, Kaniehtiio Horn, Mark Anthony Krupa, Trevor Horn
Live action role playing or LARPing as it is sometime known, hasn’t really had much exposure in cinema outside of a subplot in 2008 comedy Role Models. This is all about to change with the imminent release of Joe Lynch’s awesome looking Knights of Badassdom, a film primed for cult success. In the meantime a smaller independent film from Canada has sneaked out on to DVD this week and it’s a movie that deserves a lot more recognition. You could look at The Wild Hunt as a crazy mish-mash of genres that shouldn’t work, except it does work and it’s an effective, tense and clever little film.
Our story begins with Erik (Ricky Mabe) a young Canadian man who is plagued by bad dreams and self doubt. Erik is left to look after his Alzheimer’s stricken father most weekends whilst his girlfriend Lynn (Kaniehtiio Horn) goes off into a fantasy world in the Canadian wilderness to take part in an elaborate fantasy role playing game. Lynn was introduced to this world by Erik’s brother Bjorn (Mark Krupa) who is so enmeshed in this make believe universe that he rarely breaks his character of a Viking warrior. Erik suspects that Lynn is cheating on him and one weekend, scared of losing her, he follows them out into the woods. Erik finds the grounds for the event far more vast and detailed than he thought; there are hundreds of participants all belonging to different factions and all at differing levels of the game. Erik is forced to enter in costume otherwise he will be denied entry. Once there he finds his brother and Lynn and encounters many amusing characters. As the game goes on, Erik finds himself enjoying the whole thing and reconnecting with his girlfriend. The newfound happiness is about to be shattered however when a band of pretend savages and their shaman ruler start taking things a little too seriously.
To say anything else about the plot would be a disservice to you the viewer. Part of the joy of watching The Wild Hunt is discovering it for yourself. There are some wild shifts in tone in the script and direction that the film takes. It could have easily all fallen apart but the characters and world are so well presented that you end up going with every sudden turn the film takes. This starts off like most independent films with lots of handheld shots of guys with floppy hair staring out through windows. Once the action moves to the setting of the live action role play then things really kick up a gear. It's possible that this could have been an out and out piss take of the whole subculture but writers Mark Krupa and director Alexandre Franchi clearly have a lot of affection for these folk so there is humour, mostly at the expense of a pompous nerd who has attained the rank of king, but there is also some touching character moments and little human flourishes amongst the world of make believe. Kudos also to the production team for somehow finding a vast village set complete with barns and Viking longboats that they could use as a set. They also seemed to have wrangled together a few hundred actors to really make the game seem like something people are hopelessly lost in every weekend. It’s a great subject matter for an independent film and the makers are very savvy for setting a small story in a larger world that makes the film seem more expensive as a result.
Due to the good work of the actors and the writers there is a sudden shift into horror that works totally because you are so invested. The film goes to some uncomfortable places and becomes more like some kind of Shakespearean tragedy. I felt myself start to physically tense up at one point because I cared about these people, it’s a lesson that many filmmakers forget in their race to throw gore at you; make the characters likeable. The violence is sudden and shocking and the actors involved really sell the idea that things have gotten out of hand. The message seems to be that no matter who you are or who you pretend to be, when out in the wilderness and faced with the same emotions we all face in our every day lives the animal instinct will take over. There are characters whose only happiness comes from the weekend retreat where they get to act like a sorcerer and lord it over a crew of men. When these people are faced with the same problems they faced in the real world, things like rejection, they react violently to the things that drove them into the game to begin with. It’s something most can identify with, who hasn’t sought comfort through Call of Duty online multiplayer only to get cussed down by some 12 year old with a headset who lives in Albania. This is why I don’t go paintballing anymore. One characters journey in the film (I won’t say who) is especially moving, leading to a final scene that will play on your mind for a while.
The Wild Hunt calls to mind The Wicker Man, to me at least. Both films deal with outsiders introduced to a world they do not understand and explore the darkness just under the surface of the every day. This is a far better companion piece to that film than The Wicker Tree could ever hope to be and for that reason I urge you to seek it out.
Extras: Trailer, Making of, Storyboards, Festival footage, Commentaries.
The Wild Hunt is out now on DVD