Canadian filmmaker Alexandre Franchi’s first full-length feature, The Wild Hunt, is a skillful, often humorous, tale of doomed romance set in the blurred-reality realm of live-action role playing. The story centers on Erik Magnusson, a young man with a depressing job and a homebound father, whose only point of light seems to be his girlfriend Evelyn — who he’s rapidly losing hold of.
In search of thrills, Evelyn has been seduced by the real-world Dungeons & Dragons-type game that has already all but possessed Erik’s older brother Bjorn, who spends his time worshiping Thor and assembling a Viking clan. Hoping to reclaim his love, Erik ventures into this world, only to discover it’s far less innocent than it seems.
Shot in the Duchy of Bicolline, an actual LARP land located in Quebec, the film includes a number of real-life role players as extras, and paints a far different picture of the practice than some of the more mocking references to it in pop culture. What Erik finds as he becomes drawn further toward the impending wild hunt that marks the game’s crescendo is that, for many of the participants, the threads that tie fantasy to reality are extremely frayed, and the upset of outside intrusion is more than enough to break them completely.
While the film starts off lighthearted in tone, unafraid to poke fun at its own subject matter, it ends up anything but — its inherent tragedy standing as a reminder of humanity’s intrinsic violence and the danger of rapid devolution with the removal of societal constraints. As Erik, Ricky Mabe does an excellent job of bridging the two worlds, serving as the audience guide from the blandness of everyday experience to the frightening prospect of unfettered escapism. Tiio Horn, meanwhile, is captivating as Evelyn (aka Princess Evlynia), leaving little doubt that she could inspire such passion from both sides. However, the film’s true star is co-writer Mark A. Krupa as Bjorn, who truly embodies the spirit of a man so desperate to break from the reality of his life that he gives over to the fantasy completely — not realizing the cost until far too late.
Ultimately, The Wild Hunt is a psychological exploration; a Lord of the Flies-esque journey beyond the humorous veneer we apply to those indulgences that take us beyond banality (ie, reality), but also reflect the importance of maintaining our grip upon it. It bodes well indeed for Franchi’s future, if not that of humanity itself.
The Wild Hunt opens in limited release in the US on May 28.
The Gen Art Film Festival, which is celebrating its 15th Anniversary, is a week of premieres that spotlight the most talented emerging filmmakers in North America. Click here for additional photos and video from the red carpet.