Reviewed by Marc Glassman
The Wild Hunt
Alexandre Franchi, director & co-script w/Mark Antony Krupa
Starring: Rick Mabe (Erik), Tiio Horn (Evelyn), Mark Antony Krupa (Bjorn), Trevor Hayes (Shaman Murtagh), Kyle Gatehouse (David),
Claudia Jurt (Tamara), Spiro Malandrakis (Olivier)
It’s the Vikings versus the Celts in Alexandre Franchi’s TIFF award-winning first feature The Wild Hunt but the action isn’t taking place in Northern Europe during the Dark Ages. This is Canadian indie cinema, not a Hollywood blockbuster—so the film is set in Shawinigan in modern day Quebec and not just for budgetary reasons (though keeping an action movie to a $500,000 price is a minor miracle).
The Wild Hunt dramatizes the fantastic world of LARPers (Live Action Role Players). Office drones or blue colour workers 51 weeks of the year, they all—except for one in the film—annually take off for seven days and walk on the wild side. Clad in skins and other medieval gear including elf-like ears, these warriors play at being the pagans their ancestors might have been. Women and men leave their humdrum lives and lovers to find a vital existence, if only for a week.
It’s Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) writ large and played for real—almost. Director Franchi, a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre, and his long-time buddy, the actor Mark Antony Krupa, are D&D players and scriptwriters. Together they’ve crafted a tale of a weekend where love is tested in a land populated by fantasists—some playful and some not–and, far worse, a handful of borderline psychopaths.
Erik is a realist except when it comes to Evelyn. He’s in love with the dusky beauty but she’s had it with their awful life, taking care of Erik’s dying father in their noisy, ugly apartment overlooking a highway in northern Montreal. Evelyn is a LARPer and she heads off to that land of imagination, where she is the Main Squeeze, the Princess beloved (and lusted after) by the Vikings and the Celts.
Erik can’t accept that she’s gone. After a couple of restless nights, he heads to a forbidden territory, the land of the LARPers, where Evelyn and his brother Bjorn play out their fantasy lives. Bjorn is a great warrior there, not the selfish, weak brother who has abandoned his ailing father for a life in the land of faux Vikings. Evelyn, already immersed in the game, has been captured by the Shaman Murtagh, who may well be an ex-boyfriend from the real world.
Forced to participate in this strange world, Erik slowly wins back his girl but the land of LARPers proves to be hard to leave. Evelyn is torn between the world where she’s a Princess and reality. And to get her back, Erik has offended nearly everybody, including some very angry, tough men.
The Wild Hunt slowly moves towards a tragic conclusion, fully in keeping with its Viking story-telling roots. Franchi’s and Krupa’s success with the film lies in their ability to interweave the real and the fantastic elements of their tale. The Wild Hunt is filled with action, suspense and romance—all on an impossibly small budget.
Is the film entirely successful? No. The plot has muddy elements—Evelyn and Erik seem oddly uninformed about the rules of this Nordic world—but the film has a strong narrative and some unexpected moments of comedy. You can see why The Wild Hunt won the Audience Prize at Slamdance 2010 and the Best First Feature Award at TIFF. But the ending is stunningly brutal and some people won’t be attracted to explore the strange world of the LARPers.
The Wild Hunt will attract a core audience—and they should see it in theatres. As for the rest, the fall DVD release beckons.