The Wild Hunt
Directed by Alexandre Franchi
Starring Ricky Mabe, Kaniehtiio Horn, Mark Antony Krupa
MPI Home Video
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Erik (Ricky Mabe) lives in Quebec and doesn’t have much else going for him other than taking care of his ill father Magnus (Martin Stone) and spending time with his girlfriend Lyn (Tiio Horn). Unfortunately Lyn has decided that she wants more out of life and decides to leave Erik for the spiritual and physical freedom of a live-action medieval role playing village in the countryside where she’ll serve as the feminine arm candy of Murtagh (Trevor Hayes), whose role in the village is that of the shaman and leader of a tribe of rampaging maraduders. Erik seems content to let Lyn go for all time at first but soon finds himself traveling to the village to win back the heart of his lady love. But in order to walk among the other LARPers, Erik will have to reluctantly become one of them. He also encounters Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa, who also co-wrote), his estranged brother who left Erik with the sole responsibility of caring for their father while he embraced his role of a lusty Viking warrior with a bottomless thirst for the thrill of battle.
Erik gets into the spirit of the village enough that he is able to infiltrate Murtagh’s camp and take Lyn back, but when she refuses to return with the shaman for the purposes of the forthcoming “Big Battle” in which every member of the village will play a part Murtagh gets incensed and creates tension among the ranks of the royalty, warriors, and serfs alike. From there it can only get worse, because Murtagh and his followers are about to kickstart “the Wild Hunt,” an orgy of senseless violence and rampant pillaging, only this hunt, inflamed by Murtagh’s jealousy and petty tyranny, is going down for real.
Until I had received The Wild Hunt on DVD for review, I confess to having never even heard of this movie, and I was only moderately familiar with live-action role playing. To this day I still don’t quite get regular role playing games. I grew up with video games, board games, and if you had a pen and a few sheets of paper handy we could get down with an epic Pictionary battle. The concept of creating entire characters and worlds with the roll of a dice seemed alien to me. It was one of the few geeky things I never even tried, not even after watching the classic “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode of Community. But I would never look down on anyone who loves role playing games; they’re just not something that interests me, though the appeal of them is pretty easy to fathom.
Who doesn’t look at the world around them and wonder if it will ever get any better than that? Who doesn’t wish things could be like the magical, optimistic stories they read in their youth? It’s a far-reaching ideal, but when the opportunity to create a world that is if not more idealistic than at least less depressing and full of adventure and wonder comes along who wouldn’t seize that opportunity and run with it, buck naked and screaming like a banshee? So, I really understand.
We’ve seen LARPers played for laughs before in movies like Role Models and the upcoming (hopefully before I die) Knights of Badassdom, but The Wild Hunt dares to portray a controlled and committed culture as nothing more than a large gathering of average human beings looking for an escape from the everyday doldrums. It’s their lifestyle choice and it hurts no one for them to exist by the ethical codes and standards those living in medieval times happily accepted and enforced. As I watched The Wild Hunt it reminded me a lot of George Romero’s classic Arthurian action-drama Knightriders, which also portrayed a sect of medieval role players with accuracy and respect.
The mood of the story is perfectly established in its opening moments when two players escalate an argument into a potentially deadly sword battle and the moment their swords clash and all we hear are the sounds of balsa wood and plastic colliding. Tension is immediately diffused by humor. Then we immediately segue into Erik and Lyn’s story, which isn’t give as much set-up as needed to establish them as lovers who have long drifted apart. The solid acting from Mabe and Horn mostly elevates the underdeveloped relationship and the two stars have decent chemistry that also helps during rough patches. Some parts of the story are a little difficult to believe, like Lyn leaving Erik to be with Murtagh. Breaking up with the decent, upstanding guy to be with the power-wielding bad boy is a trope as olde as ye hills, but the attraction Lyn has for Murtagh is given even less attention than her relationship with Erik. I didn’t fully get it but once the story really got moving I paid it little heed.
As good as the rest of the cast is, the real star of the show is Krupa. He co-wrote the script and gave himself the most interesting character in Erik’s Bjorn, the only one in the story who feels three-dimensional. Krupa commits himself completely to his performance, never once breaking his character in the LARP village. But beneath the mad, laughing warrior he immerses himself in you can see the sad remnants of the person he used to be and only then do we start to understand why Bjorn doesn’t drop his character until it is absolutely pointless; he has become the character, it is pretty much all he knows, and to dispense with the mythology he and the others in his warrior clan have established for themselves is for Bjorn to have to actually face the fears and personal inadequacies that drove him out of his home and family and into this idealized fantasy world where reality is left at the front gate along with the players’ cars and outside world clothing.
The character and Krupa’s accompanying performance are by far the best parts about The Wild Hunt, but the rest of the movie is pretty cool too. The dark turns taken in the third act lead to some unexpected tragic consequences that will very likely floor you as they did me. It took real guts and a devotion to originality for Krupa and director Alexandre Franchi to take the story to the places they chose. Even if you end up not liking the movie you cannot deny that the filmmakers chickened out in the moments where true audacity was called for.
MPI’s 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the movie is slightly compressed from its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, but it’s still damn good picture transfer. The atmospheric cinematography by Claudine SauvÃ© looks terrific; the frosty outdoor scenes will have you seeing your own breath even if you’re watching the movie in the comfort of your home during a blistering heatwave, for which I would highly advise you seek immediate medical treatment, while the naturally-lighted indoor scenes feel warm and the crowded and authentic sets take on a certain life of their own.
The Wild Hunt has been provided with a boisterous English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track that does just right by the movie. It’s a more than adequate sound mix with strong volume levels for the dialogue and music. Audio distortion is kept to an unnoticeable minimum. No subtitles are included.
MPI has tossed in some meager extra features to complement the main feature. First off we get three minutes of footage from various premieres of The Wild Hunt in three sections – “October 13th Premiere,” “Wild Hunt Montage,” and “Slamdance.” Next up we have a nine-minute selection of production footage in two parts – “The Bootleg” and “Production Diary” – along with two minutes devoted to the film’s Montreal premiere. A storyboard gallery and a trailer wrap up the supplements.
An honest and humorous look into the lives of LARPers that quickly crumbles into mass delusion and cruel violence, The Wild Hunt is the textbook definition of a hidden cinematic treasure. Modest flaws aside, this is a entertaining but dark feature with memorable characters and a few surprising left turns that demand repeat viewings and eternal appreciation. Seek this one out and you can thank me later.