The Wild Hunt – The Game is Over

The Wild Hunt has been on Netflix Instant for some time now, but is also available for purchase, which I highly recommend.

Image displaying horned skull Murtagh on cover of The Wild HuntThe 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

Actress Tiio Horn in furs as Princess Evlynia

Tiio Horn as Princess Evlynia of the Ice Wind

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?

Horned Skull Murtagh Leads the Wild Hunt with Savage Kelts Behind Him

An example of the excellent lighting in The Wild Hunt

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”

Actor Trevor Hayes with skull makeup as a shaman in the Wild Hunt

Trevor Hayes as Murtagh the Celt Shaman

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.

6 thoughts on “The Wild Hunt – The Game is Over

  1. Pingback: Larping.org | LARP Weekly Roundup 5/4/12

  2. Nice review. On the whole we thought that this movie was pretty disturbing. There wasn’t much explanation for why the people just decided to rage through the camp and start slaughtering people. And the ending was horrific.

  3. Thanks! I will be reviewing “Darkon” and the other LARPing movie I’ve seen eventually. I found “The Wild Hunt” to be disturbing as well, on account of the disturbing behaviors of its characters. Does it give LARPing a bad rep? No, I think most viewers are able to discern that the bad actions of the few were their own and are not common in LARPing. The characters react with horror to the violence, just as the viewers do. I agree that the end was horrific, but it raises a number of questions. Even if Murtagh deserves justice for his involvement, is strongthat really how it should have come? What will happen to Bjorn now? I can guarantee you that his final act will weigh on him heavily. He knows he’s not going to Ragnarok now and has failed.

  4. The message of the movie has nothing to do with the dangers of escapism or LARPing. The movie is exploring social structures and the dangers of mob mentalities and overgrown egos, and mans own destructive nature.

    Bjorn is a deadbeat who abandons his dying father to go play in the woods and escape his problems. His created ego is a noble and fierce hero whereas his actual deeds consistently show him to be a coward.

    Lyn is a manipulative bitch who uses the game as a means to garner attention for herself and cause drama.

    Erik is a down on his luck standard protagonist who must overcome adversity in a desperate attempt to reestablish equilibrium in his life. His inability to let go of his deadbeat brother and the unhealthy relationship he has with his girlfriend ultimately lead to his death.

    Greg is a sociopath who uses LARPing as a way to act out his violent nature when in reality he is probably a coward.

    Murtagh is a tragic hero who uses LARPing as a means to explore his spirituality but ultimately succumbs to his own inflated ego.

    The other characters are all just trying to escape for the weekend and have some fun.

    The theme of the movie is summed up in some of Murtaghs early dialogue. To paraphrase, in the beginning there was man and nature. Man has put up a thin facade of civilization to protect himself from the harsh realities of nature. The movie demonstrates how quickly this facade can disintegrate and how the roots of man’s brutal nature are in his ego.

    I could write a thousand pages on why this movie is amazing and how much of a tragedy it is that its not considered one of the greatest movies of the 1st decade of the new century.

    Damn right the ending was disturbing. It was one of the most shocking and emotionally charged climaxes I’ve ever experienced. Erik is brutally murdered by Greg after showing himself to be the hero. Greg is murdered by a mob of his retaliating victims after his own mob is disbanded. Lyn realizes how much of a piece of shit she is and commits suicide. Bjorn accepts the responsibilities he was running from and avenges his brothers death.

    The characters all got what they wanted and it was shown that their desires where in fact counter to what they needed. Murtagh wanted to unleash the beat within, and after doing so was seen huddling in his home a broken man. Bjorn wished to be tested in battle and after a real battle breaks out he realizes himself to be an average man and not the hero of his fantasies. Lyn wanted drama and it lead to the death of Erik.

    Holy crap, what a great movie.

  5. Pingback: Actor-Writer-Gamer Mark Krupa on The Wild Hunt, LARPs, and Role-Play | Craven Games: In-Depth Tabletop Games Coverage

  6. wow i got to say i am almost addicted to it and the way you worded all that was perfact and well said nice jobe and if anyone knows at all how i could become apart of a real larping group please let me know i want to be apart of a really good one one like the wild hunt obveously not like the ending but how good it was and realistic im asking cause i enjoy this type of thing and i use it to escape reality sorta to be away frome the modern day and to be with people who understand me if anyone knows email me at celtic_baron@hotmail.com Thank You