Posted by ws1 on:
Note: There is little in the next few paragraphs that isn't hinted at in the official trailer. BUT, I urge you to go see this one blind. Don't watch the trailer. Don't read my review (yet). Just go see it (it's good). It's playing Friday at the IV Theatre at 6pm.
If you live in Santa Barbara, then you've probably driven by Oak Park a t some point seen a small group of young and not-so-young adults running around in medieval costumes hitting each other with padded swords. Like me, you probably thought something snarky to yourself, like, "I knew a few kids in high school who were into that stuff..but..really?". To be honest, ever since my friend Dieter monologued for an hour in a futile attempt to to explain D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) to me back in middle school, I've been a little curious what role-playing games were all about.
So I was excited when I heard about The Wild Hunt. Having only briefly scanned the one sentence synopsis in the festival brochure, my motivation to go was based almost exclusively on a single sentence that I overheard while waiting in line to buy milk at Ralph's. The guy in front of me said, "yeah, I think I'm going to check out The Wild Hunt tonight - I guess it's like...a D&D Viking thriller or something".
Awesome. Because Vikings are almost as cool as Ninjas or Pirates (and maybe even Dinosaurs), I needed no more convincing. The films unusual elements sounded odd enough to be worthwhile.
Despite knowing that there was a D&D/LARP (live action role-playing) element in the film, the opening sequence (an 'epic battle' Vikings and Celts) still caught me off-guard. In diminishing believability, an almost authentic looking Viking battle scene morphed quickly into something very B-movie-ish, complete with less-than-convincing fight choreography, bad wigs, and uncomfortably clichéd dialogue (think 'The Seeker' but worse).
My friend Steve and I momentarily wondered if we had picked the wrong film, until a fight scene (between a cranky 'King Argyle' and a loud and feisty Viking berzerker) reached it's climax, and ended with a burp ( Argyle yelling 'Whoa whoa whoa! The fight's fuckin over OK? I hit you like ten times! Ref!?" ). There was an audible sigh of relief from the audience (who must have been as concerned as we were that we'd all stumbled into the worst film ever).
Happy, realizing we we'd been playfully duped, we scooched deeper into our seats knowing that the film we were watching was (a) not necessarily horrible, and (b) charming because it was off to a good start poking light fun at.. uh.. the type of people who take LARPing a little seriously - withou t making them seem like idiots.
TWH quietly lulls you into thinking you're watching an indie-romantic-comedy-drama-type- film (something like "Away We Go") as it sets up it's sympathetic and frustrated protagonist Erik (Ricky Maybe), who lives with (and takes care of) his mentally disabled father. His flaky older brother Bjorn (an emotionally arrested Norse-God-Obsessed 30 something, played by Mark Antony Krupa) has more-or-less abandoned Erik and his father to frolic indefinitely in a role-playing camp in the Canadian back-country. Unfortunately for Erik, his aloof and emotionally distant girlfriend ( Kaniehtiio Horn) has a sort-of simultaneous relationship with one of the LARPers ('Shaman Murtagh', played by Trevor Hayes) at said camp. By the time she tells Erik that she's leaving for some 'air' to go role-playing with some other dudes in the mountains, the little voice in the back of my mind telling me that the film is supposed to be a thriller had all but faded - and the bleakness and quiet dysfunction of their 'relationship' had taken center stage.
Director a nd Co-writer Alex Franchi's genius is in allowing us to invest ourselves emo tionally into Erik's character, and his charming and slightly pathetic 'love quest' to go talk some sense into his cheating girlfriend, which he can only do by (reluctantly) playing along with his brothers geeky friends who constantly insist on him staying in 'decorum' so as not to ruin the game. We trust the films smart and witty storytelling until we learn the hard way that it's not out to make us feel warm and fuzzy.
Of course, eventually, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong (it really goes terribly wrong). The film pivots instantly from an increasingly tense romantic tug-of-war, into very real-feeling panic and disorienting violence. Brilliantly, the quirky and harmless emotional momentum of the film (which by this point has flirted with danger and returned to safety many times) extends slightly past the point of no return - leaving the audience (or at least me) flinching.
It's hard to miss the director tipping his hat to William Golding. But unlike Lord of the Flies or Apocalypse Now, Franchi places mans capacity for acts of horror much closer to everyday life. He makes us watch as his carefully-crafted, charming and emotionally familiar narrative get's convincingly ( and unapologetically) torn limb from limb.
And just in case you were wondering, though I'll cry in a theater at the drop of a hat, (or more likely when a dog is hurt or dies) I'm the kind of guy who is almost never bothered by 'scary' movies. Of course I've jumped once or twice - but never too far. I thought the Saw was campy and a little stupid (duh). Silence of the Lambs was excellent, but more intriguing than scary. And the Blair Witch Project was what it was - but I never lost sleep.
The Wild Hunt terrified me.
During the last 15 minutes of the film, I felt my heart race uncontrollably. I squirmed, cringed & flinched until my whole torso and neck actually tingled with adrenaline (which is usually reserved for getting stalked by hungry bears in the dark on a camping trip in Yosemite).
In the brief calm that follows the films climax, it manages to blend together the banal and the mythological. It articulates a fascinating connection between role-playing games with the horrific realities they romanticize, and somehow erases the gap between typical contemporary real-life breakup drama and Shakespearian tragedy.
The film is a brilliant, emotionally complex and believable piece of storytelling, with compelling acting (especially by Ricky Maybe, Nicholas Write & Mark Anthony Krupa).
Driving by Oak Park will never be the same.
9 out of 10 stars (aka 'go see it').