The Wild Hunt has been on Netflix Instant for some time now, but is also available for purchase, which I highly recommend.
The Wild Hunt builds slowly, alternating from Erik Magnusson’s drab existence in urban Montreal with his dying father to the vivid colors and energy of the LARP camp filmed at Billicone in Quebec, Canada. In most respects, the LARP event is any gamer’s dream. It definitely is for Erik’s older brother Bjorn, who channels his Icelandic ancestry into his Viking character. Erik’s girlfriend, Lyn, departs for a weekend at the camp, but Erik is tormented by dreams in which he hears her whimpering and crying out for help. These premonitions prompt Erik to check up on Lyn. Once Erik leaves the cold grey city and enters the Canadian wilderness, the pace quickens and the drama rises again and again until it reaches a very bloody peak.
All of the technical aspects of the movie are well done under the helm of Alexandre Franchi. The music adds to the mood, Claudine Sauve’s shots serve the plot well, and nothing about the film stands out as being low budget. In fact, much of the movie takes place at night, but none of the action is obscured by poor lighting as can often be the case in many Hollywood productions. The Wild Hunt is one of the better movies I have seen in the last few years, outshining other Viking fare such as Valhalla Rising and the Pathfinder remake, but also many other mainstream films.
The Acting in The Wild Hunt
The acting and casting in The Wild Hunt is consistently strong. The movie does err on the handsome and slender side of things though, unless I’m horribly unaware of how many fit LARPers there are. Mark Krupa is brilliant as Bjorn while Nicolas Wright plays the hipster douche King Argyle quite well. The awkward David, played by Kyle Gatehouse, was well cast too. He is one of the most comical characters, but Spiro Malandrakis as the melodramatic, pixie referee Oliver, is hilarious in many of his scenes. Trevor Hayes is utterly convincing as the powerful villain Murtagh. When he is in character as Murtagh, he is primal and commanding. Out of character, his charisma remains with a strong manipulative streak. Everyone from the Elven Queen to Tiio Horn as Lyn/Princess Evlynia is perfect for their parts.
Comedy and Dark Turns
There is ample comic relief to help build the story, but be warned. If you have seen The Foot Fist Way, Observe & Report, or Super, they are good indications of the direction The Wild Hunt takes, blending humor with some pretty grim reality. Two much less humorous films I’d compare it to are Falling Down and Taxi Driver. Non-gamers who enjoy the sort of movie typified by these five other films, where the psychological walls between two realities are caving in, will probably also enjoy The Wild Hunt. For a player of RPGs or a LARPer though, The Wild Hunt is a must see. The movie leaves a deep impression, much like a sledgehammer to the head, and I have found myself watching it over and over again, wrestling with some of its themes.
The Wild Hunt’s Themes
Why Does My Son Have Somber Dreams?
I think if you are a gamer you will identify with Bjorn or even Murtagh, but perhaps a non-gamer friend would identify with Erik (Ricky Mabe), who is thrust into the crazy irresponsible world of the LARP. However Erik is also weak-willed and a wuss. He is losing his girlfriend to Murtagh, but he makes the same sort of needy pleas for sympathy characteristic of so many nice guys. Trying to talk her into accepting him back, he promises, “I will follow you forever”. Evlynia doesn’t want to be followed around by puppy-eyed, vanilla Erik. She wants an equal partner or even to be led on a Wild Hunt of fun and adventures herself. Bad boy Murtagh or even crazy Bjorn are more likely to do so than weak Erik.
I think this underlying theme is an incredibly important one for gamers. The greatest trope of gaming, for male gamers at least, is “I played D&D until I got a girlfriend”. Many gamers become Erik Magnussons, denying their interests, passions, and identities, in order to fit in and try to attract a mate. These efforts may work in the short run, but in the long run, such gamers are leading somber unfulfilled lives. Eric’s father questions “Why does my son have somber dreams?” By denying himself, his ancestry, and his potential, Eric is a failure and ironically can’t maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, or in Bjorn’s words which he swears “I have lost my warrior pride and because of that, I have lost my woman to another.” In contrast, Bjorn embraces his Viking roots, the call of the elements, and at least a vague sense of a destiny. This is not to say that Bjorn is popular or without problems of his own. In fact, he spends a good deal of the movie by himself. As the plot builds, he must confront his own fears and faces his own tests, however painful they end up being.
Decorum and Escapism: “Don’t Mess with Decorum”
The other theme of The Wild Hunt that has really captivated me is the battle between fantasy and reality. Straddling the line between the two is decorum, remaining in character during the game, but also recognizing that it is a game. As Murtagh demands of Lyn, “When you speak to me, you speak in character.” However, that in of itself is a breach of decorum. The movie is full of these little inconsistencies which seem to be particular to role-playing, and LARPing in particular. Wargamers might occasionally invoke the Emperor’s protection on a dice roll or give a cry of “Waaaaghhh!”, but you never have to ask “Is that you asking the question or your character?”
Further complicating The Wild Hunt and its characters’ pursuit of decorum is that many of them are role-playing as themselves. Murtagh, Bjorn, Argyle, and Lyn are arguably playing characters based on an ideal version of themselves. Bjorn uses his real name, while Lyn goes with Princess Evlynia. Murtagh is never even referred to by another name. While they break decorum for other reasons, almost any verbal attack against these LARPers is very personal and against their own identities. Rejection is very real and crushing to most of the LARPers. In contrast, the gangly David is anything but a fierce and bloodthirsty Viking warrior. Though he’s a comical character, he’s actually one of the closest to being a real role-player in the movie. The other ironically is Erik, who despite his somber dreams, does not view himself as an actual Viking warrior, or any sort of warrior for that matter. His role-playing to take back Lyn is not an escape for him, but instead is personally empowering.
For Bjorn, Evlynia, and Murtagh though decorum is an escape. For Bjorn, it’s a move away from his ailing father. For Lyn, it’s freedom, “fresh air”, and and an escape from real life and its consequences. While we never learn what it is that Murtagh is escaping, it’s obvious that he enjoys the power of leading his Celtic faction. However much they enjoy LARPing though, it does not empower them. There’s a larger question here about the role of entertainment and recreation in life that The Wild Hunt asks, going beyond LARPing and tabletop gaming to any sort of game or hobby. How should we spend our free time? Based on the fates of Bjorn, Lyn, and Murtagh, The Wild Hunt argues strongly against any sort of answer involving attempting to escape reality.
All images copyright Arc Light Films, used with permission.