The Wild Hunt comes on strong, opening on a band of frenzied medieval characters engaged in battle, their torches and glinting swords providing the only light in the deep, dark woods. There is talk of a sacrifice, a princess who's been captured and two men are shown duking it out for the title of King.
It's only when one of the men pauses to declare "Whoa, the game's over, OK?" that the film's subject comes into view — namely, live-action role-playing (LARP). This is the first of many acts of shape-shifting Montreal filmmaker Alexandre Franchi pulls off in his impressive feature debut, which was named best Canadian first feature at TIFF last fall.
The Wild Hunt's narrative is set in motion when Erik (Ricky Mabe) is dumped by his shifty-eyed girlfriend Evelyn (Kaniehtiio Horn), who announces that she needs "a little air" before heading off to remotest Quebec for a weekend of heavy-duty role play. Saddled with a bleak home life caring for his ailing father, and irked that Evelyn has opted to join the nerds who have already lured his "Viking" brother, Bjorn (co-screenwriter Mark Antony Krupa), away from home, Eric journeys to the faux-medieval camp to win Evelyn back.
In its lively first half, The Wild Hunt mines Erik's palpable discomfort in the Renaissance fair-gone-wild setting for comedy. In one scene, he's forced into a smock and harassed by the LARPers who keep urging him to get into character. An exasperated Erik turns to Evelyn and says, "You're in a costume with guys in fur. Seriously."
For all the laughs, The Wild Hunt is a surprisingly affectionate look at this strange subculture. Franchi is hyper-attuned to the minutiae of this world, never more so than when he shows a deadly earnest Bjorn arguing that his "magical cloak of protection" should make him invincible in the game, or when the camera roams across a field of LARPers embracing the chance to wail on each other with foam swords. When Erik dares to mock a dude decked out in full-body armour, the nerd's dignified retort is, "Well, at least we're fun losers."
Save for one exposition-heavy scene in which the film's title is explained, the script is subtle throughout, and the movie builds gradually to more serious themes concerning the dangers of retreating from reality into make-believe. Inevitably, some members of this troupe of freaks and geeks are too committed to their roles. When Erik's genuine, unscripted feelings for Evelyn puncture the fantasy scenario that's being played out by the mock Vikings and Celts all around them, The Wild Hunt morphs into something dark and unexpected.
Franchi displays a keen awareness of how drunken group merrymaking can quickly turn nasty, and the film's climax is a real nail-biter, in part because the film's low-budget lighting makes it tricky in some moments to determine who's chasing whom. This isn't a failing — Franchi and his crew work wonders on a shoestring, and there are some inspired touches in this last stretch, including a scene that captures the short, terrified breaths of one character who is no longer a willing participant in the Middle Ages drama.
The only time Franchi fumbles is in a twist ending that strives to achieve the mythic vibe of some of the medieval legends his LARPers are re-enacting. It undoes some of the goodwill that courses through The Wild Hunt, while suggesting this gifted director is itching to move on to meatier material. I can't wait to see what Franchi does next — once he's cast off all the puffy shirts and furs.
Genre : West Movie