Road Games (2016): Twists & Turns (Review)

Joséphine de La Baume & Andrew Simpson in Road Games

Written and directed by Abner Pastoll (His second feature length film.) Road Games follows the journey of English hitchhiker Jack (Andrew Simpson). The young Brit is making his way from Nice to Calais to catch a ferry back home.  He rescues  Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume) from a driver who is arguing with her and the two agree to team up. 

After a long wait for a ride, a car stops.  The French girl is reluctant to get in but eventually joins Jack in the car. The driver; Grizard (Frédéric Pierrot) is a bit odd but friendly. He invites the two back to his house where, he says, his wife Mary (Barbara Crampton) will cook them a meal. 

Back at the family home, which is an immense mansion,  the hitchhikers get settled in and clean up for dinner.  Jack learns that yet another strike is taking place at  Calais so he will have to wait to catch a ferry back to England.

Grizard  tells Jack earlier that Mary is English as well, but the woman is really from America originally.  The older couple act bizarrely and at one point Mary tells Jack to lock his door at night.

At dinner, they all talk about the hitchhiker murderer; a serial killer who is quite famous around that area. Véronique calls the infamous murderer a “serious” killer.  The atmosphere in the house is strained and weird.

At one point Jack tells the group that he is a vegetarian.  Grizard reacts poorly to this news and calls the young Englishman a “Homme-Lette.” (Which seems to be slang for gay…)

Things get strange and after Jack spends the night with Véronique, the young French hitchhiker goes missing. Grizard tells Jack that she left without him.

Road Games is slow but methodical in its build up of suspense.  The moment that the two hitchhikers meet up with Grizard and his wife Mary the tension sets in and never leaves. There are some satisfying, and surprising, twists in this French/UK thriller.

The cast is an intimate affair. There are only four main characters and French actor Féodor Atkine is Delacroix;  a road kill collector who is much more than he seems. He is the fourth   piece in this well put together puzzle. 

Pastoll has delivered a film that has the audience asking questions right up until the end. (Pay attention to the closing credits, as there is a hint of something to come.)  A very satisfying film that delivers  an impressive tale where the choice of serial killer changes constantly.

Set in the gorgeous countryside of France, with what appears to be a  few shots of Kent, the film looks brilliant.  The film was shot in both countries and while Kent could have been interior scenes, there are some bits of countryside that look decidedly English.

While the film hits all its marks, keeping the audience second-guessing until the very end, there is one sequence that is confusing.  At one point  the two hitchhikers flee and grab an car. Before leaving the enormous house, Véronique grabs a set of car keys.

The two head to a heretofore unseen car and use it to drive away.  As the film continues this mystery seemingly sorts itself out but not quite.

If there is one bone of contention, it is Grizard’s overwhelming verbal outburst toward the end of the film.  It really did drag the scene out that bit too long.

This is a 5 star film full stop.  Clever, suspenseful and really entertaining. Leaving out the serial killer slant the film and its characters are all quirky and odd enough to make some to the scenes nigh on unbearable to watch.  Pastoll’s lack of music in some sequences adds to the sense of uneasiness.

The cast all do very well in their respective roles and it was nice to see Re-Animator actress Crampton again after her recent appearance in We Are Still Here.  Irish actor Andrew Simpson  does very well in his role of hapless traveler Jack. The French cast really sell their characters and this small group work very well together indeed.

Road Games is streaming on Netflix and is also available on Amazon.  At just over 90 minutes the film is worth the time spent watching, just for that final plot twist alone.  Pop some corn and grab a coke, this is a good one.

(Note the film does utilize subtitles extensively. It is, after all, set in France.)

Stranded aka Djinns (2010): Desert Deja Vu?

Djinns (film)

That this French film made little to no impact on the world of cinema is evident by the overwhelming lack of information on the internet. Both IMDb and Wikipedia have very short ‘blurbs’ on the film apart from a shorthand version of the story/plot and a cast list.

I can’t really understand why. It is a decent enough film in a small niche market of military horror. Yes, it has been done before and arguably better.

The South Koreans with the brilliant (and in my humble opinion the best of the lot) R-Point in 2004 followed closely by the 2008 film The Guard Post. Not only has Korea created this cross-genre but by making two military-horror films one after the other seems  to prove that they have mastered this niche genre.

The UK brought out Deathwatch in 2002 and Stranded reminded me of the film with the choice of colours and the muted desert tones that pervade the film. A not too dissimilar plotline and cast of characters  made the film  seem a bit  like a distant cousin to Deathwatch.

Written and directed by Hugues Martin, and Sandra Martin, Stranded is  the maiden voyage for the both of them and they acquit themselves well. The actors were mostly unknown to me as I am not a huge French film fan. I did recognise Cyril Raffaelli who is perhaps better known as a stuntman and stunt coordinator. He played the lead role in Luc Besson’s excellent District 13 and the sequel District 13: Ultimatum (Cyril was the stunt choreographer for both films) and he was a ‘baddy’ in Die Hard 4.0.

The film opens with a lone figure in a military uniform staggering down a highway surrounded by desert. The figure is carrying an aluminium briefcase with a handcuff on it. At one point he fires his weapon, an SMG, wildly and then collapses. He is rescued by more French military personnel and they begin to question him about the briefcase and where the rest of his squad is.

One week before the survivor along with the rest of his squad were sent out into the desert to find an airplane that had crashed and to look for any passengers who might still be alive. The squad have all been together for a while except for the newest member who was recently drafted into the military. This newcomer is Michel (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) and he has brought along a spring operated cine camera to film their desert search for the missing plane.

Once the squad have found the plane, they find all the bodies bar two and an aluminium briefcase that has been handcuffed to one of the passengers. Vacard (Thierry Frémont) hacks the dead man’s hand off to take possession of the case. Thierry plays Vacard with a mix of cold professionalism with just a hint (at first) of homicidal madness that really makes him stand out in the film.

After the men have collected the corpses from the plane Michel  arranges his comrades around the area and he starts directing and  filming them. Just as he gets started one of the men is shot and the remaining squad members take cover and begin returning fire.

Vacard kills one of the attackers and the men take advantage of this to escape the plane and head off into the desert. A sandstorm blows in and slows down their escape and hinders the attackers from following them easily. While they have camped for the night during the storm Ballant (Emmanuel Bonami) appears to be approached by some almost invisible creature.

Michel witnesses this and he watches as Ballant tries to steal the briefcase and after failing he wanders off into the storm.  While the squad are looking for Ballant the stumble across a village. The men enter the village and round-up all the occupants accidentally killing a girl in the process.

Michel is approached by the village’s ‘holy woman’ and she tell him that he can see the Djinn (creatures of the desert) and that he has been marked as a ‘holy man.’

Since the film was originally titled Djinns it is no real surprise when these desert creatures start taking over and influencing the dwindling number of French soldiers.

The film was atmospheric, moody and slightly eerie. The actors all did a good job and there was a plot twist at the end. So really I don’t get why it was so poorly received. I felt it was entertaining, if not too original, but to be fair there were only a few military-horror films that  came out prior to this film’s release.

I would recommend seeing it just because it does entertain well. It got a little confusing at one point, but that’s because I stopped reading the subtitles while I answered an email or two. It did not spoil the film, however, and I soon picked the loose plot thread back up.

It is currently on show via LOVEFILM in the UK and I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find in a film rental shop.

My final verdict is that despite the initial poor reception, it’s definitely worth a watch. Even if you don’t get to see Cyril Raffaelli do any smooth parkour moves.

District 13: Ultimatum
District 13: Ultimatum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)