Thursday, September 1, 2011

REVIEW: THE WILD HUNT, by Mark Donovan

 Be Careful What You Pretend To Be

            Live action role playing is a topic that has been widely covered in documentary form, since it is easy find subjects worthy of an audience’s sympathy, pity, or scorn, and there is already an easily defined narrative to the proceedings that can be easily juxtaposed with the reality of the subjects’ lives. It is also an area that is relatively unexplored in narrative features, given that it is home to outsized personalities, giant battles, opposing factions, and it all seems very silly to those who choose not to partake. It can make for great comedy, or, as it is used in The Wild Hunt, it can make for some tense drama.
            The Wild Hunt starts out in a similar fashion to another movie about LARPing, Darkon, in that it fully immerses the audience in the actual game, as if it were real, before pulling back the curtain to reveal that all of the fights were with foam swords. From there it moves, briefly, to the real world, where Eric and his girlfriend, Lyn, are going through relationship problems. After she leaves to take part in the game, he begins having bad dreams about her, and eventually heads off to crash the game in search of her. The early scenes come off like so many mumblecore dramas, with characters milling about, unable to express their emotions with any sort of clarity or enunciation. This is also contrasted with the land of the game, where everyone tends to shout their feelings and desires in a theatrical style reminiscent of fantasy. The early scenes are also shot through a blue filter, with overexposed lighting, giving the real world a sort of unreal, depressing quality.
            Once at the game, Eric trudges through it, begrudgingly dressing in proper costume attire and loudly declaring to anyone he comes into contact with how he is not really playing the game, looking for Lyn. His feelings of superiority to the silly costumed people that are taking the game seriously are easy to see. After his first, brief encounter with Lyn, in which she rebuffs him in favor of the silly costumed people, he teams up with his older brother, Bjorn, to try to win her back through playing the game, setting in motion events that nearly destroy the fantasy world.
            Alexandre Franchi’s excellent direction, in conjunction with the terrific cinematography by Claudine Sauve, creates a mood of mounting dread that starts shortly after Eric enters the fantasy world and doesn’t let up until the end. There is something unsettling about the fantasy world, and the way some of these characters wrap themselves in it, like religious zealots. It’s easy to see how such people could end up running wild, given that so much of their ego is wrapped up in the game. They have played characters of great importance for so long that they actually believe they are important.
            Despite taking place in expansive woods, the film feels claustrophobic. It is as if the escape that these characters are searching for is also keeping them confined. There is no true freedom to be found through the game, and nowhere in these woods to hide. The only character that seems to be truly enjoying everything is King Argyle, who uses the rules and his position in the game world to just be a terrific bastard to everyone else. He’s not above using cheap tricks to win, and then taunting his opponents.
            The one problem with the film is the character of Lyn, and what I like to call the Ramona Flowers conundrum: she does not seem to care enough about the relationship to make the audience care about the relationship, or make us understand why the main character would go to such lengths for her. She is more like a prize, and the only sense we get of her character is that she is only interested in fun. She seems to just want to be wanted, and shows extreme ambivalence about everything that doesn’t revolve around her. If I were Eric, I’d just cut my losses, as opposed to going through all that trouble just for her.
            Still, even with that problem, The Wild Hunt is fun little movie, filled with great characters, and enough respect for its fantasy world that it never falls into derision, yet still has a sense of humor about it. The direction is tight, and the cinematography is top notch. If you are a fan of role playing, tense dramas, or well made films in general, check out The Wild Hunt.

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