Road Games, 2015.
Directed by Abner Pastoll.
Starring Andrew Simpson, Joséphine de La Baume, Frédéric Pierrot, Barbara Crampton and Edward Hogg.
Amidst reports of a serial killer riding the roads, a couple of hitchhikers in rural France accept a lift from a strange man.
A quick look at the title and the synopsis of Road Games is a good indicator of what you’re going to get from director Abner Pastoll’s debut feature film, because it immediately fills your mind with images of hitchhikers walking into a total bloodbath on some dingy backroad but once you’re on that journey with the two main characters you’ll find that things aren’t quite what they would at first appear to be and misdirection is the name of the (road) game.
Like all good thrillers should, Road Games gives you a sense of place and situation as it opens on lone hitchhiker Jack (Andrew Simpson – Notes on a Scandal) trying to thumb a lift whilst in the middle of rural France, despite there being news reports of a serial killer running wild in the area. It isn’t long before Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume – Rush) enters the scene as she is ejected from a passing car by a seemingly disgruntled driver. It turns out Véronique is also hitchhiking and is very aware of the serial killer so she and Jack hook up, although Jack is quite open about making his way back to England while Véronique appears to be a little more directionless and just wants to travel. So when a passing motorist in an English car stops and offers them a ride they both hop in, but Grizard (Frédéric Pierrot – Jeune & Jolie), the driver of the vehicle, is a French man who, thanks to the strikes at Calais port, offers to take Jack and Véronique back to his house for the night until things calm down a bit. When they get there they meet Gizard’s slightly distant wife Mary (Barbara Crampton – Re-Animator) and although things appear to be a little odd but still friendly, the next day events take a turn for the worse.
And for those of you who have seen all of the horror and thriller movies set out on the open road then what unfolds may not be that much of a surprise, although Abner Pastoll does throw in enough curveballs to try and throw you off the scent. Once the final reveal is made it doesn’t really make much difference to the overall film as you will likely have guessed who the killer is anyway but it does explain a few things that you might have spotted on the way; subtle things like facial expressions, hand movements and gestures that may have seemed a little off-kilter if you did spot them but give you that “Aah!” moment of realisation once all the pieces of the puzzle have been put together.
But although Road Games does twist and turn to try and keep you guessing, the actual content of the film is pretty unoriginal and Pastoll plays his characters like it was a Miss Marple mystery and we’re not supposed to know who is good and who is bad. The key element to his misdirection is the fact that a lot of the dialogue is in French, some of it is in English and not all of it is subtitled. Jack only knows a few basic French words and phrases so a lot of what Véronique, Grizard and some of the other characters say – to him and to each other – goes straight over his head and it is this trait that the film relies on for much of its storytelling – the clues are all there but,like Jack, we can’t always see or hear what is actually right in front of us.
So Road Games is a film that you really need to watch twice; once to get that initial mystery out of the way and a second time so you can catch all of those titbits that may have escaped you while you were concentrating on the main plot. The cinematography and locations used are such that you won’t mind watching it again, and with Barbara Crampton and Frédéric Pierrot both nailing it as the slightly strange French couple with the inexplicably large house for just the two of them there is much to enjoy from the slow build-up of the first 55 minutes of the film, although the flat and slightly irritating performance from Andrew Simpson – whose native Irish accent creeps in every now and then, despite Jack constantly being characterised as a typical “English boy” – does threaten to overshadow the good work from the other actors.
Nevertheless, Road Games is a fine film from a director with a keen eye and ear for setting a mood and who has obviously watched a Hitchcock film or two in his time. However, while all the basic ingredients are there it seems a bit more inventiveness in the presentation is required, and although its surprises aren’t really that much of a surprise it is still an entertaining film for the most part.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★