The Wild Hunt (2009)
Directed by: Alexandre Franchi
Written by: Alexandre Franchi and Mark Antony Krupa
Recommended? A hesitant yes.
Bechdel Test: Fail
The Wild Hunt is a Canadian drama-thriller that tells the story of a LARP-turned-Stanford-Prison-Experiment gone dreadfully wrong. A non-gamer crashes his brother’s Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) game to “rescue” his girlfriend, and the situation spirals into a Shakespearean tragedy reminiscent of grotesque, gut-wrenching emo music. The movie is dark. Dark, dark, dark. Did I mention it’s dark? When you look up its IMDB movie keywords, the third is “attempted rape.” Consider that a major trigger warning.
All that aside, I’ve watched this movie three times in the past three months. I’m attracted to The Wild Hunt‘s affecting cinematography, its exploration of an unsettling human nature, and, of course, its rad LARP gameworld.
Let’s start with cinematography. Although a bit contrived at times, the artistically rendered scenes often reflect the emotions at play within the characters. Paneled glass separates the viewer from the conflicted protagonist in one shot, so we see him in pieces, separated from himself. The audience experiences the girlfriend’s panic through blurry images obscured by the shaman mask she’s trapped in. By far my favorite sequence of the film is a series of captivating scenes and monologue as the protagonist drives to the game. The audience hears a voice-over of his “Viking” brother during shots of highway pavement, oil refineries, and massive powerlines:
“The serpent that circles the earth writhes in fury. With every breath, he stains the soil and the sky with his poison. The fire giants are marching against us carrying swords that blaze like the sun itself. They scorch the earth as they pass. But I, Björn Magnusson, will lead your heroes into Ragnarok, the final battle.”
Can I just pretend this is a call-out for earth warriors to take down industrial infrastructure that’s destroying the planet? An allusion to the director’s secret anti-civilization tendencies? Awesome. Moving on….
What troubles me most about The Wild Hunt is probably what’s supposed to trouble me most: the characters are very much effed up. They are horrible to one another from the beginning, and it only devolves into complete, ahem, anarchy by the end. The bad kind of anarchy. The anarchy that involves wanton murder and rape. I struggle to think of a single character who I actually like. And yet I find my morbid curiosity watching on, identifying with some characters’ behaviors one minute, almost pitying them, almost liking them, and then seeing how that behavior unchecked can wreak horrid consequences, and I’m back to wanting to punch ’em in the face.
In fact, during most of the movie, I just want to punch ALL the characters in their faces, scoot ’em off the really-freaking-cool game arena, and then invite the anarcho-geeks to live in the woods and play all day. But more on that later.
The character that troubles me most is the girlfriend. As one of two female leads (who never talk to each other, thus Bechdel Test Fail), she is the worst! She’s extremely manipulative and narcissistic, lying to her two simultaneous lovers who know nothing about each other. Some viewers might blame her for the entire tragedy, and not the actual [male] murderers and rapists. It’s all kinds of convoluted, a challenge for the audience to suss out, a stimulating brain exercise. But, UGH, what a horrible representation of a female! All the emo boys will be writing songs about her! To be completely candid, I find myself struggling with the “she deserved it” excuse, which makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. How was she was pushed to such an extreme? What life events or constant low-level abuses from dominant culture subconsciously drive her actions? How are similar abuses affecting me, my loved ones, my community, and society as a whole? This movie will push your boundaries and make you question your own inner demons.
The girlfriend, to me, embodies an important internal struggle within anarchist communities: the refusal of accountability. After being confronted by her in-game lover about her non-gamer boyfriend back home, she responds, “I thought this [game] was about being free and stuff. If it’s not fun, I’m leaving.” Sadly, I’ve seen this response from many anarchists after being confronted with problematic behavior in radical communities. The scene gave me the shivers.
The Wild Hunt overall is VERY macho, rife with sexist, racist, and homophobic remarks from the dominant male characters we see most. Yet there exists an entire elven army where the women and hippies tend to gravitate. I wish we could have seen more of them. And I wish the elven queen, a woman in a powerful position, wasn’t written to flaunt her sexuality during all of her screentime. I mean, war strategizing and leading mythical armies is pretty sexy in itself! There’s also mention of women playing “prostitutes” to trade real sex for fake coin. This could almost be sexy if the game wasn’t populated by aggressive-ultra-macho-men. Did the women choose to play these characters? Why? Why is this game so effed up?! The other female lead serves as one of two referees in the game. (Yes, only two refs for about 200+ players.) The other ref is a feminine comic relief. Neither of them actually wield any power over the players: problem. Basically, all of the feminine characters in The Wild Hunt serve in support roles to the men: life coaches, sex objects, and cannon fodder.
The other “comic relief” is a Mexican gamer playing a Viking, who serves as the target of racist jokes. He’s the only POC in the film, save for a couple of extras lost in hundreds. Need I say more?
I appreciated that the protagonist is an economically struggling young man who provides in-home care for his father suffering from dementia. There’s a side of male care and commitment to family that you don’t see in media too often, although the protagonist partakes in these interactions begrudgingly. The brother-brother and father-son relationship developments are somewhat heartening throughout the madness of the rest of the movie.
On madness: every character in this film is dealing with some kind of trauma, generally undefined. Each seems to experience a slightly different reality, while immersed within a fantasy. The lines between fact and fiction blur, and establishing one’s true identity is a struggle. The characters attempt to remake themselves through the game, but suppressed real-life issues surface and crescendo into chaos. The movie’s complicated. Life’s complicated. People are complicated.
Lastly, let’s talk about the gameworld. I’ve never played in a LARP, but I have participated in my fair share of costumed-and-refereed capture-the-flag. What I’ve learned from LARPers is that the game depicted in The Wild Hunt is incredibly unrealistic. A game that size would have many, many more referees, to start. And contingency plans, first aid responders, etc. Role-players are generally good-natured, playful, jovial spirits. If you want to freak the heck out of your non-gamer friends and family, show them this film, and they will never want you to role-play ever again, for fear of you being murdered or raped, or turning into Satan himself. Many LARPers hate this film for portraying their ilk so … wrong.
But, ah, the gameworld…. I want to live there. It’s a real place, the Duché de Bicolline in Quebec. There is no electricity, and anything “modern” is forbidden within the arena’s borders. Days are filled with physical challenges, cook fires, and weapon-making. Nights are filled with singing, fire juggling, and long walks in dark woods. You can play pretend as an elf, a Celt, a Viking, or a knight. There’s an Anglo-Saxon village, a shaman’s encampment, the elvin woods, and a Viking ship. I would live and die there a happy little anarcho-nerd. Through most of the film, my mind wanders from the self-involved melodrama to the fun I would have in such a place. Sigh.
In conclusion, this movie is messed up like it’s supposed to be, and it’s worth watching if you’re into swirling whirlpools of bleak humanity mixed with smatterings of dark comedy and fantastic role-playing dreamworlds. I know I am!