Nothing breaks up a good fantasy like a harsh dose of reality. Director Alexandre Franchi demonstrates this with devastating effect in The Wild Hunt. What starts off as a quirky drama set in the world of LARPing, grows increasingly claustrophobic and tense until the shocking finale lays bare the primal darkness that is dormant in all of us.
Before I go any further, I should probably explain what LARPing is for those among you that are unaware. It stands for Live Action Role Playing and is actually tied into one of my earliest memories of college. I remember walking across campus as an impressionable freshman and coming across a most anachronistic sight. Two dudes in full medieval battle armor stood facing each other as a small crowd watched their every move. Suddenly, and without warning, they charged at each other and unleashed a flurry of blows. One had a mace while the other had a sword. I was too busy being puzzled to be truly alarmed. One of the bystanders told me they were LARPers. He followed this with the explanation "it's like Dungeons & Dragons came to life and had babies with a Renaissance Faire". While most LARPers would argue about the nuances of that reductive statement, I think you get the picture.
The Wild Hunt spends much of its running time in the world of LARPing, although Erik (Ricky Mabe) would probably love it if that were not the case. He's upset and you would be too if your girlfriend left you to spend a few days in the forest with a bunch of big, burly guys and their sweaty man musk. Erik trusts Lyn (Tiio Horn) but he can't say the same for those LARPers. Not helping matters is the fact that Erik's older brother, Bjorn (Mark A. Krupa) is deeply enmeshed in the world of LARPing and was the one who actually introduced Lyn to it. Bjorn can't fathom why Erik stubbornly denies the charms of his fantasy world but is understandably thrilled when Erik approaches him for help in winning back Lyn. She may be playing the part of a princess who has been captured by the Shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes), but that shouldn't be a problem since this is just a game...right?
Tonally speaking, this film has no business working and yet it does. Franchi and Krupa (who also co-wrote the film) deserve a great deal of credit for this. They succeed to a great extent by credibly intercutting scenes of broad humor with moments of paranoid tension. The sight of a man ringing a doorbell in a full suit of armor to then retrieve a large hammer (Mjolnir, of course) from under the kitchen sink will make you smile. The lingering shot of lust in Murtagh's eyes as he watches Lyn will make you nervous. The fact that they co-exist in the same filmic universe will remind you of how wildly someone's interior and exterior worlds can diverge. A loving send-up of LARPing that tightens the screws in preparation for the bloody and unpredictable finale is an odd beast to tackle but it is done here with aplomb.
Even though the film resists the urge of turning the LARPers into caricatures, a few key characters are still rendered confusingly flat. Erik's heroic quest to save Lyn only carries weight if you consider Lyn worth saving and that is sadly not the case here. This is not a knock against Ricky Mabe and Tiio Horn who do what they can with their roles. It's just that Lyn is presented as such a petulant and bored little brat that Erik only looks like a fool for chasing after her. Trevor Hayes is a bit more believable as the evil Shaman who can't separate his actions in the game from their consequences in the real world. He is counter-balanced by Bjorn who is the only individual in the film with something resembling a character arc. Krupa gives Bjorn a mock seriousness that is both hilarious and a little sad. By the time he fulfills his final perceived duties, the sadness has taken over and his world has turned depressingly stark.
Although it has plenty of light-hearted moments, The Wild Hunt is really an epic tragedy played in minor key. Don't let my concerns about the shaky motivation (provided by Erik and Lyn's relationship) prevent you from giving this unique film a shot.
The video was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image was clear and free of obvious defects. It accurately conveyed the muted and gloomy color palette of the film. Since a large chunk of the film takes place at night, it is worth noting that some of the dark shots were lacking in shadow detail but were watchable on the whole.
The audio was presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. I found the mix to be more than adequate for the material at hand although the tense and thrilling climax would have surely benefited from a true surround mix. Other than that, I didn't notice any major issues with the audio track.
The extra features, while numerous, are fairly short in duration. Festival Events captures montages from appearances at various (you guessed it) film festivals. The Making Of featurette is divided into three parts. The Bootleg (1:06) consists of line readings and rehearsal footage while the Production Diary (8:23) takes us through the filming of a scene. It also includes brief conversations with cast members and sped up footage of shenanigans behind the scenes. Footage of the Premiere (2:04) at an AMC cinema in Montreal can also be found here. Storyboards and a Trailer (2:04) cap off the extras.
Every game has the potential to turn deadly when its participants forget that they are simply playing for fun. The Wild Hunt applies this logic to the world of LARPing and draws blood in the process. Director Franchi and his co-writer Krupa have given us a fully realized world where one's reality and fantasy collide in extremely unpleasant ways. Highly Recommended.