The sun drenched days of summer turn dark and ominous for hitchhiking duo Jack and Véronique when they become inexplicably entangled with a mysterious married couple and a local road kill collector in rural France.
March 4th, 2016
Josephine de La Baume
Road Games is a new horror thriller out of the UK and France, and stars our beloved Scream Queen, Barbara Crampton (who also executive produced the film). It’s not be confused with the early ‘80s Australian import starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis – but it does have a few similarities (serial killer is murdering random hitchhikers on the open road in rural France, rather than the Outback). Word has it that an actual remake of that Road Games is somewhere in the works!
Hitchhiking drifter Jack (Andrew Simpson of Notes on a Scandal) is an Englishman travelling across rural France, when he meets fellow hitchhiker Veronique (Josephine de La Baume). Together, they bond and begin to fall in love. That’s all well and good, but they can’t catch a ride from any of the passersby, and no wonder – there’s a butcher on the loose, killing desperate hitchhikers and cutting up their bodies before disposing of them. As luck would finally have it, one kind – but very odd – older gent named Grizard (Frederic Pierrot) offers them a lift. He takes them to his beautiful country estate, allowing them to clean up, grab a bite to eat, and to meet his equally strange American wife Mary (Crampton). Plenty of secrets swirl around this middle-aged couple, and immediately Veronique feels ill-at-ease. Jack’s just happy to have a hot shower and a soft bed. And so it goes…
Eben Bolter’s cinematography and the specific shots of the golden and flowing landscapes of southern France are worth the price of admission to Road Games. So much of the film takes place in broad daylight (including the climax) and so throughout, he takes full advantage of every hay bale, tall-grassy meadow and breezy tree branch available to him. Despite the creepy proceedings of the film’s story, I still found myself during the travelling sequences – “oohing” and “aahing” at each “work-of-art” shot. Absolutely delicious photography.
Andrew Simpson and Josephine de La Baume as our young hitchhiking lovers have an immediate chemistry, and you could actually see Jack and Veronique moving into a normal relationship, had all of this business at the Grizard manse not swept them up into something violent and dark. As Veronique, de La Baume is as carefree and open as you’d expect a hitchhiking free spirit to be. The fact that she gets nude in front of Jack on several occasions (they’ve met only hours prior) just draws us in. Who doesn’t love someone as easy about life at Veronique? And Simpson’s Jack clearly feels the same way. He’s immediately enamored with Veronique and because of his recent past, we’re willing to go along with him on this journey as well as this express stroll down lover’s lane (Simpson’s incredible blue eyes don’t hurt either). Jack’s a good kid (although we don’t know that right away – it’s one of the film’s charms that we’re unsure about everyone at the outset), and we’re happy to see that his hook-up with Veronique could be a possible healing relationship for him.
And Ms. Crampton does her usual service to the film and her character. Frankly, wouldn’t it be more interesting to spout off a headline like, “Barbara Crampton fails to deliver a memorable performance!”? But, not the case here (or anywhere). Mary’s introduction is perfectly eerie as she shows Jack to his room in the sprawling home. She can’t stop looking at him, touching him and eventually hugging him. It’s a common saying when a character such as this comes across my screen – I’ll utter an out-loud, “Cuckoo.” Crampton has several great moments (those big blue eyes of hers never fail to bely her character’s feelings), but none so perfect as her final one – keep an eye out during and after the credits – which means you need to stick around. Crampton does an expert job of offering warning after warning to Jack (both in her body language and in cryptic moments like, “Keep your door… locked.”) And her always-on-the-mark delivery makes you want to say to someone like Jack – “You better listen.”
The score by Daniel Elms was wonderfully effective. At times it sounded like something out of The Shining, and then the electronica end credits (by Carpenter Brut) add a welcome ‘80s vibe to the film.
But dagnabbit – round about the third act – things begin to fall apart. I feel like a robotic message repeating this complaint every few films or so. Last year I reviewed several films with this same issue. The set-up, performances and beautiful direction establish real tension and uncertainty (the dinner scene is magnificent – full of weirdness and innuendo). You are drawn in completely and then the third act/climax comes rattling on and suddenly it’s like a train derailment. The delicate atmosphere just falls into a series of clichés and a random introduction of a character from out of nowhere – including character actions which will no doubt have you scratching your head. The climax felt herky-jerky and didn’t match the rest of the greatness of the film. And while it’s my task to explain why it didn’t completely work, this is one where I can’t quite put my finger on it. Once Jack leaves the house, I lost interest for the next 20 minutes. So something went wrong there. But the dénouement brought me back around, so we can be thankful for that.
With that, the payoff is surprising, but not shocking – meaning I didn’t see it coming, but it wasn’t quite a masterful reveal. I desperately tried to go back in my memory and take a deeper look at situations and character interactions – once the secret was revealed. And there were a few actions which I couldn’t quite reconcile with the final unveiling – they didn’t make sense.
The film is in English only half the time. The rest is in French. It’s an interesting way to make Jack even more uncomfortable and uneasy. Everyone else in the film speaks both French and English, and despite the fact of what it is probably like in the south of France, it also serves to continually remind both the audience and Jack that he is an outsider in this land.
The Basic Instinct-inspired ending leaves things up in the air for our characters, but despite how things rolled out in the climax, you still would like to see where these people end up. On that note, the film clearly succeeded. If it hadn’t worked on some very important levels, would we really care to continue our journey with these characters?
Perhaps it’s the fact that they both take place in the rural countryside of southern France, but Road Games also had a feeling akin to the 2003 Alexandra Aja film, High Tension – something about the locations and atmosphere rang similar – not a bad thing, just an observation.
With the star of the film being its stunning photography – ably supported by great performances and initial creepiness, Road Games is worth your time – even if the third act and big reveal don’t live up to the film’s overall promise.
Road Games is scheduled for release on March 4th, 2016.