I'm reeeeeally looking forward to the Joe Lynch film "The Knights Of Badassdom," written by Matt Wall and Kevin Dreyfuss.  I bring it up because there's a similarity to the basic concept of that film and the next film that Dustin Hucks is reviewing for us from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

See if you agree.  The Joe Lynch film deals with a group of role-players who are on a weekend excursion when one of them accidentally calls up a real demon, forcing them to have to live the roles that they've all been playing, and either kill or be killed.  It's about that fine line between fantasy and reality and what happens when that line is removed.

The thing is, I assume (not having read it, but knowing Lynch and how infectiously hilarious he is at all times) that the Joe Lynch film is going to be wild and silly and fun and gory and exciting and big, and it's going to play to the popcorn side of the basic idea.  And that's awesome.  Plus he's got Peter Dinklage, so he pretty much automatically wins.

Keep that description in mind as you read this review by Dustin Hucks of a film that's been playing the festival circuit for a little while now.  Dustin caught up with it at the Santa Barbara International FIlm Festival, where he's a guest reviewer for HitFix this week, and here are his thoughts on "The Wild Hunt":

"'The Wild Hunt'

LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) is one of those terms that sort of snuck in on the periphery of my subconscious; I just knew what it meant one day, and this bummed me out.  I’m a huge fan of role playing games via video games, and I have nothing against the folks that get a thrill playing the pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons… but LARPing, that takes a level of commitment I just don’t have.  Men and women, dressed as their favorite fantasy characters, battling it out with duct tape swords and foam shields?  Pass.

When Slamdance Film Festival award winner and Focus on Québec entrant 'The Wild Hunt' was suggested to me, it was described by various festival goers as being built for the 'geek crowd.'  I have no problem admitting I am one, and it’s not like I could hide it if I wanted to.  We recognize our own.  I’m a gamer; that’s my geek flavor.  I identify with the geek ethos of others, because no matter what you’re into you’re still a part of a larger community of generally cool like-minded people.  That said, man… the LARPers really take it to another place, and this film was a chance to see a bit of that world, even as what I thought might be parody.

As very rudimentarily described, 'The Wild Hunt' is about medieval fantasy reenactments in the woods of Canada that turn much too real.  Before the film director, producer, and co-screenwriter Alexandre Franchi noted that he wanted his heroes to be imperfect, that he was tired of films that create an indelible line between good and evil.  Sadly, he took that concept, which is fantastically refreshing when done right, and made something that I’m still sort of at a loss to describe appropriately.

Ricky Mabe plays Erik, who so far as I can guess is supposed to be the protagonist.  He lives in a dingy apartment as the primary caretaker of his father, who is suffering the mental ravages of old age.  He’s a sad sack, with a live-in girlfriend of two months (Lynn, played by the stunningly beautiful Kaniehtiio Horn) who seems to have no emotional connection to him when the film begins, and who suffers schizophrenic shifts in sentiment toward Erik as things progress.  Erik has been left to care for his father by his older brother Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa), who has somehow managed to fall off the grid and devote what seems like exclusive time to the development of a Viking persona in a fantasy LARPing community that takes to the woods for make believe combat.  In his devotion to this fantasy (Bjorn is never truly out of character, even in the end, when you would expect some mental and emotional clarity on his part), he has managed to draw Lynn into the games.  She leaves Erik, noncommittally promising to come back, departing for the fantasy world via SUV.  In short time having heard nothing from her, Erik leaves the city and heads to the woods to confront his estranged brother and win Lynn back to reality, albeit a decidedly depressing one.

There are so many absolutely bizarre aspects of this film, decisions in character and story development that just left me entirely baffled.  This is a movie with an identity crisis.  There are moments when it’s cute, downright comedic, and intentionally so.  The opening sequence starts with a realistic battle in the woods complete with swinging steel and flying bodies, realistic, that is, until the combatants drop character and begin bickering about hit points, magic cloaks, and who gets to be king that week.  I laughed, and settled into what I assumed might be a dark comedy.  When Erik arrives at the fantasy kingdom in the woods, complete with fortresses, encampments, and a Viking ship, I was still with it, having fun.  There is a scene early upon his arrival where he ignores the warning of the gatekeepers not to enter the area out of costume, and the results of doing so are entertaining.  He’s mortified by these people, but Erik has to play their game to get the girl.  After that, however… it’s absolute scattershot.  Lynn plays the part of fresh meat in leather ass-pants, kidnapped from the reigning king of the fantasy games for the Celtic Shaman LARPers, led by a man named Murtagh (Trevor Hays).  When Erik finds her, she so clearly and embarrassingly rejects him that his continued pursuit of Lynn seems nonsensical.  His strange integration into their collective culture as the film goes on is unnatural, as is the shifting relationship he has with a brother who clearly has very little in the way of endearing qualities.

The progression toward chaos and eventually legitimate violence is also entirely confusing.  Erik’s strange embracing of the games endears Lynn to him (and then it doesn’t, and then it does – rinse and repeat), and in doing so the intricate rules monitored and upheld by designated referees are broken when she prepares to leave with him.  The degree to which their transgression towards the rules are reacted to collectively by so many involved is just asinine.  When the situation devolves to bloodshed, and characters I was supposed to care about find themselves in peril, I simply didn’t care.  I didn’t like anyone, for any reason.  Erik is a terrible boyfriend, with no prospects and what seems like no motivation to do anything past bring his hateful, slutty girlfriend back to the dead-end life that pushed her away to begin with.  Bjorn brings us a small mote of satisfaction to play with at the end of the film, but again – I don’t like the guy.  He’s still obsessive and mostly out of touch, clinging to a slimmed down version of the Viking visage – but holding onto it all the same inexplicably.  The disaster that befalls his life seems only to have scratched a layer off of the crazy.  It’s still there.  What could have been a powerful and disturbing final scene fell so flat, the only emotion I had was relief that I’d be walking up the aisle and out the door soon after.

In speaking to other reviewers after the film, we agreed that Alexandre Franchi had a solid foundation to build an interesting and dark story, anti-hero and all.  It’s such a unique community; there was a lot there to play with that could have made 'The Wild Hunt' work.  Without characters to care about, I didn’t have a film to care about."

Ouch.  I think there's a lot of room for this world to serve as a great springboard for a story, but it sounds like "The Wild Hunt" misses the mark.  I'm hoping Joe Lynch is the guy who knocks this basic idea out of the ballpark, because someone's going to, and Lynch certainly has the chops to make it work.

We'll have more from Dustin next week as the Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues.

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