The Wild Hunt
Director: Alexandre Franchi
Canada, 2009

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Geexploitation has been a Hollywood trademark for years. From “Revenge of the Nerds” to “Superbad” to “Fanboys,” even when geeks are the heroes they are still tragi-comic characters with barely a single dimension to their name. Geeks are not real to the Hollywood scriptwriter. Their feelings and motivations are not like normal people; they act and think according to geek reason. Geeks do not come of age, they simply “sneak into the Skywalker Ranch” or “Have sex with a cheerleader” or “get to play Super Mario 3.” That is the ultimate goal, the Valhalla of a geek, according to Hollywood.

Geexploitation does nothing more to advance a maligned subculture than Audrey Hepburn’s Japanese-caricature neighbor did to advance the cause of Asians in film. Creating films with impenetrable dialogue and terminology don’t do anything either, though the conflict may be understandable the story becomes untranslatable. There’s a reason why people liked “Brokeback Mountain” much more than say Kevin Kline’s atrocious “In and Out”. One struggled to generate comedy from brutishly dissecting the alleged pros and cons of being gay. The other film made no such effort, accepting without question a world where the two main characters were gay. No onus of reason was necessary for the film to make sense.

So from the film summary of “The Wild Hunt,” most people (myself included) would expect yet another Geexploitation film, where the quirks are more important than the characters and the end results with “geeks learning lessons” rather than “people learning lessons.” Thank God that I was wrong.

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A thriller from Quebec, “The Wild Hunt” is the story of a young man, Erik Magnusson, trying to find his girlfriend, Evelyn, who had disappeared after spending a weekend at a Live Action Role Play (LARP) commune. The commune is secluded, its members are devoted, and each has their own personal reason for participating in the event. One of the camp’s faction leaders, Erik’s estranged brother Bjorn, uses LARP to escape from his mental demons. But when Erik arrives at the camp, he and his brother (reluctantly) unite to help each other. Things eventually get a little too real, as what starts out as regulated, rule-limited role play becomes darker and sinister as the real world and its consequences starts to creep in.

What “The Wild Hunt” manages to do, and why it succeeds as a film, is that it doesn’t trivialize the characters. Director/writer Alexadre Franchi does a wonderful job of tethering the major characters to reality. Thus, their conflicts become sympathetic; their motivations are not alien to the non-LARPing audience. Though no extra knowledge is needed to enjoy “The Wild Hunt,” it does not trivialize the culture of LARP. Respect is given where it is due.

The characters LARP and they are flawed. But they are not flawed because they LARP. And they do not LARP because they are troubled. Erik remains a man apart, rejecting the immersion from the very start but eventually succumbing to his “birthright.” Bjorn channels his need for acknowledgement and accomplishment into his alter-ego. Evelyn craves attention, but requires action to see it manifest. Even villain Murtagh needs LARP to prove that he can work within a system, that his way of thinking and his philosophy can be useful. To some, LARP is a sandbox, to others a testament of faith.

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Towards the beginning of the film, the director chooses to shoot from inside the LARPers’ imaginations. Swords are sharpened, fires blaze, magic and lore are very much real. Then with subtle sleight of hand, we are back in the real world. Weapons are rubber, the wigs are a little looser, and their face paint rubs off with the gentlest of touches. As order begins to disintegrate, this transition happens less and less frequently. The grey fantasy is lost, replaced by a dark reality. In the final moments of the film, Bjorn delivers a soliloquy worthy of Hamlet, majestically lamenting his actions and their unfortunate consequences. He finally realizes what we’ve known all along, that his humanity is very real and his escape from it unsuccessful.

Writers Alexandre Franchi (also the director) and Mark Anthony Krupa (also stars as Bjorn) did an amazing job writing dialogue that matters, dialogue that gives us insight into a world only few of us have seen. The humor is subtle but satisfying, and doesn’t come at anyone’s expense. One LARPer laments the walk up and down a hill, as he has chosen to wear a full set of mail. Bjorn makes a phone call to his brother from a payphone requiring that he “fetch his mighty hammer, Mjollnir.” There is bickering about who is “dead” and who is “resurrected” and who has the bigger “enchantment.” LARP is not the joke. And while the film can be sardonically funny at times, it remains a thick character drama with a relatively bleak outlook. But this film stays away from being a commentary on geek fantasy. It does not laud or condemn LARP; it does not provide answers to the question of escapism. “The Wild Hunt” treats its audience with respect, and thus rewards its audience with a compelling story, tragic characters and a film experience worth viewing.

“The Wild Hunt” can be seen at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival at these times:

June 5th – Egyptian Theater at 11:55 PM
June 7th – Neptune Theater at 9:30 PM

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