Director: Abner Pastoll
Cast: Andrew Simpson, Josephine de La Baume, Frederic Pierrot, Barbara Crampton, Lou Castel
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A British holidaymaker and French girl end up staying at a strange couple’s house.
Road Games offers up a purposefully convoluted script of Hitchcockian confusion and intensity. It’s a film where every single character is a bit suspicious, and the filmmakers delight in revealing very little about them until it’s absolutely necessary. This is a double edged sword, as it makes it more exciting for the audience, but also makes it hard to connect with the characters too. It’s hard to get involved without a bit of trust. Fun too.
We follow Jack (Simpson), a British lad in France, who comes across fellow hitchhiker Veronique (La Baume). They decide that hitchhiking is always safer in pairs, especially since there is a serial killer on the loose. The duo are then picked up by Grizard (Pierrot) who offers them a place to stay, along with his wife, Mary (Crampton). Characters aren’t what they seem, everybody has a penchant for standing around suspiciously, and nothing seems to go right for Jack.
Road Games plays well with its central theme of misunderstanding and language barriers. Jack’s French is very limited, so often characters reveal things in front of him, for the audience’s benefit, but he is completely unaware. It’s a lovely little tool to play around with, as director Pastoll also decides when and where to subtitle. Hopefully you’ve brushed up on your French if you want to know all the secrets sooner than everybody else.
Exquisitely shot, Road Games is beautiful to behold. You’ll be shocked that most of the shot was in England and has been transformed into the French countryside via wonderful use of lighting and cinematography that captures those warm afternoons. The beauty of it all plays into the film too, with Mary and Grizard’s fabulous home being a front for something not so wonderful, and Veronique and Jack’s looks being perhaps a bit misleading themselves.
Simpson is a decent male lead, although his blandness never makes way for anything too interesting. This is not the actor’s fault, but mostly the fault of a script that surrounds him with far more interesting individuals. La Baume keeps her cards close to her chest, and is both sultry and dangerous, as well as having some vulnerability around her. Pierrot could kill you with kindness, with his malicious turns making one very nervous as he still comes across as lovely and energetic while being mean, whereas Crampton seems purposefully distant and detached, in a role that makes her seem frail but not completely innocent.
Set out of any particular time period, with current fashion but old cars and a lack of technology. Road Games perfectly simulates what it’s like being a foreigner abroad. Things are misunderstood, and you’re just as terrified of offending the locals. Is it custom, or are things really that messed up? Such confusion escalates as the tension becomes unbearable and even adds some lighter flourishes of comedy.
As solid as it is, once it all comes together it reveals itself to be nowhere near as dangerous and calculating as it once suggested. One problem with being so mysterious, is that people will start to formulate their own ideas. Road Games isn’t as satisfying as one would have hoped, but it’s a tense drive down a bumpy path with gorgeous scenery to admire. You may not like where you end up, but you’ll have taken something from the journey.
Road Games review by Luke Ryan Baldock, August 2015.
Road Games screened at Frightfest 2015.