When Leanne and I were doing some running around at the mall the other day, I noticed a dvd on the front shelf of CD plus called The Wild Hunt. I read the back and then showed it to Leanne. It said some stuff about Celts and Wood Elves and Vikings and sounded kind of like a fantasy movie. I thought it would turn out to be some low-budget post-Lord of the Rings nonsense but it was a Canadian film and Leanne and I both like mythology and mysticism so we decided we’d watch it.

Later that night, much later really, we sat down to it and at this point had learned via IMDB that it was actually about LARPing. There have been a few movies on the subject, from the earnest documentary Darkon to the British comedy Faintheart. There’s also that memorable bit in Role Models where the characters form a Kiss Army to take on geeky LARPers at the very same kind of convention that The Wild Hunt is set at. Anyway, I have taken the liberty of grabbing the trailer link from Youtube, embedded here for your viewing pleasure:

As you can see, there’s a mix of comedy and real tension there. The film does have a sense of humor about the game these people are playing. At the same time, there’s a subtle examination of obsession and the extremes some might take it in the name of escaping reality. What it comes down to is that escaping reality has a price and it might be your loved ones who pay it.

There’s been some controversy about it as LARPers seem to feel that the film makes their games look potentially dangerous but I think that the specific exploration going on would fit it into a lot of different settings. I don’t know if The Wild Hunt is trying to be specifically or generally critical of role-playing of this type, though it does seem cognizant of the dangers of going too far into a fantasy and being unable to separate the context from your self.

Several characters in the film are in too deep and they are the ones that show us the kinds of consequences this can have. One person might bend the rules because of a real-life crush, another might twist every thing that happens into something that can be reflected in the game, and the most dangerous ones are the people willing to completely replace their identity with that of their game characters. One particular scene, and a great example of the expertly handled tonal shifts in the film, has one guy burning his ID and wallet before reacting to an embarrassing defeat and the scornful laughter of the object of his affection. The guys who are supposed to be his followers begin doing the same, buying completely into the fantasy and getting caught up in a moment that is going to lead nowhere good.

I think the movie’s power is in how real it feels. At first, you feel like Erik feels: these are a bunch of geeks wearing furs and smacking each other with padded sticks. But slowly, everything is ramped up as even Erik gets caught up in the game. By the end, you are forced to confront the fact that there are people who can’t see the line, or will cross it even if they do, and that there is real danger here. Without spending time dwelling on the motivations or damage that has led some of these people to this, the movie subtly evokes this undercurrent of sensitivity that can fuel true frenzy in the wrong circumstances.

If you didn’t gather it from the clip, the film is about a couple of brothers. Bjorn is a very serious player in a Darkon-like fantasy role-playing game based on European history with fantastical elements. Erik is a serious young guy who takes care of their father while the other escapes. At some point, Erik’s girlfriend Lyn has gotten involved and regularly disappears for weekends to play. This situation seems to have come to a head just before a major event and Erik decides to follow them out to the secluded area where the game is held to try and convince her to come back to reality, back to him. Unfortunately for him, he has to play the game a bit to even get to her and this is fueled and appropriated by Bjorn to drive his ever-increasing break from reality. As a result of the disruption Erik causes, and his lack of respect for these people and the rules they’ve established for their fantasy, some deep dark shit is provoked and things get horribly out of control.

It’s a bit of a slow-burn but very compelling. You’d think a movie like this would be boring and sort of ridiculous, but a perfect balance is struck between mocking the game and its players and taking it all very seriously. This balance makes the movie work and turns it into something really special.

And besides, it’s Canadian.