Drifters Jack (Andrew Simpson) and Véronique( Josephine de La Baume) meet cute in the French countryside while hitchhiking, and the couple decides to travel together a while despite reports of a local serial killer targeting the very stretch of road they’re on. While Véronique seems a bit more skeptical, Jack eagerly jumps at an offer of food and shelter by an eccentric man named Grizard(Frederic Pierrot). Nothing is what it seems, though, and the young pair finds themselves in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Writer/Director Abner Pastoll weaves together a brilliant psychological thriller, enhanced by its isolated setting. Though set in the French countryside, the film was shot in the UK. The landscape is still stunning regardless, and the picturesque setting in which Jack and Véronique meet lulls you into a false sense of security. DP Eben Bolter delivered beautiful camera work.
Pastoll cleverly takes his time building toward the climax. We spend a lot of time getting to know the players; from cautious but free Véronique, brash and trusting Jack, Grizard’s kind yet eccentric temperament , to his tightly wound and distant wife, Mary, played by cult favorite Barbara Crampton. Yet, despite all we learn about the characters, it’s clear that there’s so much we don’t know. Each character gives us a reason to not fully trust their motives. For all of Grizard’s kindness, he frequently seems on edge. Even Jack, our plucky protagonist, seems a bit too happy to hop into a stranger’s car and home despite a serial killer on the loose.
Pastoll plants the seed with the serial killer info, and then keeps viewers off-balanced by never allowing us to know who we can fully trust. He further complicates things by throwing cultural divide into the mix. Jack is British, and his mannerisms are sometimes off-putting to the French. Even more to his detriment, though, is that he only barely speaks French. The dialogue switches between French and English often, which not only throws Jack off but the viewer as well. The characters struggle to meet in the middle. While they maintain an affable rapport with each other, there’s an undercurrent of malevolence that builds throughout.
This is just as much due to the fantastic performances of the cast as it is Pastoll’s Hitchcockian screenplay. Pierrot and Crampton nearly steal the show as the strange yet seemingly well-meaning couple. The cast is minimal, yet each one delivers on layered, deceptive performances critical in pulling the wool over our eyes- no easy feat these days. Even when the narrative dips into familiar territory, it never feels that way due to the performances.
There’s something simplistic yet effective when it comes to road movies, and that proves to be true here as well. The isolated setting and minimal cast allows the character driven narrative to take center stage. It’s possible that you’ll figure out the mystery before the climax arrives, but the performances will keep you so engaged that you won’t even care. Stellar performances, great cinematography, and a tightly wound screenplay all made for one effective thriller.
Road Games is releasing this Friday, March 4th, on VOD and theaters courtesy of IFC Midnight.
Road Games [Review]
A stellar cast, clever script, and beautiful setting make for one fantastic thriller that will keep you off balanced until the credits roll. Even when the story dips into familiar territory, it remains engaging regardless.