“The Wild Hunt” is a Canadian production from 2009, which having enjoyed a successful and award winning run at festivals now arrives on region 2 DVD. Marking the debut of writer director Alexandre Franchi, the film is set in the world of LARPing, or for the uninitiated (this reviewer included), Live Action Role Playing, which basically involves people dressing up as fantasy characters and running around in the woods with rubber weapons. Having been compared to “Lord of the Flies”, the film revolves around the premise of LARPers taking things too far, leading to violent and tragic consequences.
The plot kicks off with a young guy called Erik Magnusson (Ricky Mabe, “Trailer Park of Terror”) falling out with his girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn, “The Theatre Bizarre”) over her leaving for a weekend to join in a LARP game with his older brother Bjorn (Mark A. Krupa, “The Last Templar”). After sulking for a while, Erik heads after her, only to find out that as part of the game she has been kidnapped by the wicked shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes, “The Dark Hours”). In order to try and win her back, he is forced to dress up and join in, reluctantly teaming with the Viking-obsessed Bjorn and his followers in the build up to a grand battle. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that some of the players are taking things a bit too seriously, and determined to make Evelyn his own, Murtagh starts to go over the edge.
Given the potential ridiculousness of its subject matter, Alexandre Franchi does a superb job of keeping “The Wild Hunt” balanced. Certainly, the film has its moments of light-hearted humour, particularly during the first half, gently poking fun at some of the many eccentric aspects of LARPing, acknowledging the unavoidable fact that most outsiders will naturally find the very idea pretty laughable. At the same time though, he never actually mocks the game or its participants, and though the film is amusingly self aware, he does treat it with a sense of respect. This proves essential to the later stages of the film, ensuring that by the time things do turn serious the viewer has largely come to accept the characters and their commitment to what is clearly for them more than a mere hobby. As a result, the film is both engaging and fascinating, and Franchi successfully makes good use of the LARPing theme to create a believable picture of mundane madness.
The narrative itself is pleasingly unpredictable, with a number of odd twists and turns along the way. Although the final act violence is pretty much inevitable from the start, not least since most of the cast seem to be living out aggression fantasies, simmering with rage of one kind or another, Franchi still manages to work in a couple of surprises in terms of the fates of the characters, with a nicely judged and genuinely shocking epilogue. The film also benefits from avoiding the kind of clear cut heroes and villains that might have been expected, neatly blurring the lines between fantasy roles and real life in darkly human fashion. Although the plot does suffer from an unconvincing central romance between Erik and Evelyn, it makes up for this through the far more interesting Bjorn and Murtagh, two men clearly with their fair share of emotional and psychological problems.
Whilst a fairly low budget affair, the film looks good throughout, Franchi making the most of the forest locations and LARP props and costumes to create a fittingly half real, half theatrical atmosphere. Aside from a few odd editing choices the film has a professional feel and moves along at a good pace, never outstaying its welcome with a short running time of an hour and a half. When things do get bloody and violent the special effects are good, and this adds a tough edge that hammers home the contrast between the comical plastic swords of the early stages and the final act carnage with considerable power.
Despite its rough, downbeat conclusion, “The Wild Hunt” really is a great deal of fun, with an interesting concept and plenty going on. Although unlikely to convert anyone to LARPing, it’s an entertaining watch, and marks Alexandre Franchi as a talented film making worth looking out for in the future.
Alexandre Franchi (director) / Mark Antony Krupa, Alexandre Franchi (screenplay)
CAST: Ricky Mabe … Erik
Mark Antony Krupa … Bjorn
Trevor Hayes … Shaman Murtagh
Kaniehtiio Horn … Princess Evlynia / Lyn
Kent McQuaid … Greg-ash
Claudia Jurt … Tamara
Nicolas Wright … King Argyle