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Review: 'The Wild Hunt' explores the dark side of fantasy role playing

For most moviegoers, their introduction to LARP (large area role playing) probably came from the comedy Role Models, in which one of the geeky kids was a serious devotee of the hobby. While that film largely played it for laughs, LARP is actually taken quite seriously by true fans of the game and in essence can be described as Dungeons & Dragons but played in real life, outdoors. If The Wild Hunt seems to hold an admiration for LARP unlike anything seen on film before, all credit would be due to writer/director Alexandre Franchi and writer/star Mark Krupa who have poured their passion for fantasy into an eerie thriller that wonders what would happen if LARP players crossed the line between imagination and reality.

The film follows Erik (Ricky Mabe) who at the beginning of the film, is trying to work through a rough patch with his girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn) when decides to go away for a weekend LARP game. Erik who was once a keen player along with his brother Bjorn (Krupa), now finds the whole thing ridiculous and reluctantly lets her go while they decide the fate of their relationship, though he doesn't quite understand what she gets out of dressing up in medieval clothing and running around. However, knocking around his apartment he begins to realize he may lose her altogether and heads to the LARP event to try and win her back.

When Erik arrives he's tries to barge on to the battlegrounds knowing full well that one of the hard and fast rules of LARP is that must all visitors must arrive "in decorum" meaning, you are not allowed entry unless you properly attired in period gear. After being summarily booted out, he dons some simple peasant clothing and re-enters only to find Evenlyn is central to a brewing battle between the Vikings and the mysterious Shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes) and his rogue followers. In order to win her back he will have to choose sides and join in the LARP game that, as the film moves into its nervy third act, takes some decidedly dark turns.

Franchi and Krupa, both blessed with a long resume of industry experience, have put forth some considerable talent in the film that earned Best Canadian First Feature Film at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Shot on location at the Duchy of Bicolline, a LARP co-operative located two hours outside of Montreal, and utilizing real life players as extras added an undeniable and tangible electricity to the proceedings. Franchi and Krupa both know how to turn the screws on the plot and the audience, and the last third of the film shifts seamlessly into a tightknit thriller.

The duo only stumble slightly with their characters, as they never quite feel fully fleshed out. We are given very little to explain why Erik fights for Evelyn as she seems pretty much ambivalent about his role in her life. Even the couple of scenes we do get where they are ostensibly getting along, end in a disagreement and as the film moves to towards its finale how the film ultimately resolves their relationship (without giving too much away) isn't particularly earned. That said, the cast give strong performances across the board, particularly Horn whose enigmatic presence could spell big things for the actress if she can get the right breaks.

These flaws however, don't detract from The Wild Hunt's ambition to tell a story that gets increasingly surreal and surprising with each frame. For their first feature, Franchi and Krupa have turned a somewhat obscure pasttime, made in accessible and then going one step further, ambitiously centered a suspense thriller around it. That's no small feat, and The Wild Hunt marks promising debut for both Franchi and Krupa.

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