One of the key strands of this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival is a focus on contemporary Quebecois cinema, of which the big title is J’ai tué ma mère, one of the best examples of a young person’s nakedly autobiographical art that I can recall and a popular festival hit last year. Almost as popular (best debut at Toronto, audience award at Slamdance) is Alexandre Franchi’s (English language) The Wild Hunt, an attempt to conjure the resonance of Norse myth through the weekend games of a large group of live medieval role-players.
Slobby Erik (Ricky Mabe – really reminds me of someone and it’s bugging me I can’t remember who. Please help..) is pissed that his girlfriend Lynne (Kaniehtiio Horn) disappears to the woods on the weekends to cavort with beserkers, knights and elves, and heads off to bring her back. The problem is that as the Viking princess, she’s rather important to their game and currently a prisoner of the sinister Shaman (Trevor Hayes) and his crew. Aided by his rather-too-into-it brother Bjorn (Mark Anthony Krupa), a busty pixie-haired referee (Claudia Jurt) and a gawky red-haired knight with the flat sloping face of a young Max von Sydow (Kyle Gatehouse), his interference, or love quest, as the players designate it, causes the fantasy of the Shaman’s Wild Hunt – a frenzied night-time rampage initiated by the blood-letting of a “virgin” – to tip over into frightening reality.
The film-makers are D&D veterans and this is no easy mockery of the fantasy games depicted, but humorous mileage is gotten out of the incongruities of Thor’s hammer being kept under a sink, slippages between the archaic language of the game and contemporary idiolect and pythonesque touches such as the king’s charge “in the name of my name”; the sunshine, river and forest are photographed to maximum aesthetic effect (perhaps a shade overdone) and the varied costumes and the backwoods village compound, complete with Viking longship and stone amphitheatre, are all superb.
The slide from fantasy to real-life violence, however, is undercut by some easy and obvious sound design and misses out on the sickening chill that should have made it truly disturbing: blood-lust, suicide and revenge may be fine and noble in myth but look supremely ugly in real life, even if it’s movie real life. With committed playing (though Horn struggles with a part woefully underwritten) the film manages its humour far better than its conflict, and rather than evoking the ancient stories’ lessons as to how to live an enriched and honourable life, it ends by leaving an unpleasantly sour taste in the mouth.