Monday, January 14, 2013

"When good LARPS go bad." A Review of The Wild Hunt

I have never had the opportunity to play a tabletop role playing game, nor have I ever been in a "LARP" (Live Action Role Play). I have wanted to play tabletop games, but have yet to do so, and while I can see the fun in a LARP I simply have no real interest in joining one. However, RPG's have always been a staple of nerdom that still carry that stigma of being... well for lack of a better phrase "weird."

However, being an aspiring writer and lover all things creative I can appreciate the level of creativity required for both RPG's and LARPS. To not only imagine a world of high fantasy and adventure but to live and breathe it. I can respect that, in fact I am envious of people with such vivid imaginations. RPG's truly are a testament to the wonder of human imagination. However, to most "normal" folk, it is a sign of mental instability and in film this is taken to extremes.

Take the classic Tom Hanks film, "Mazes and Monsters," where Hanks plays a person who kills people because he thinks he's really a character in a fantasy world.

And then there's The Wild Hunt, which is by far the most disturbing film I've seen involving larpers (those who LARP).

The Wild Hunt is a 2009 horror film that takes place in what I can only describe as the single most awesome LARP I have ever seen in my life. Nerf swords and bed sheets are nowhere to be seen in this film as the camp the larpers use not only looks like an authentic medieval landscape but everyone is wearing very impressive costumes and wielding rather imposing replicas of actual weapons.

Now, I do not know if there are actual LARPS like this (I remind you I have never been in a LARP) but the overall quality of this game is unlike anything I've ever seen. The camp just exudes awesome from the realistic medieval feel to the fantastic costumes. There's even a replica Viking vessel on it's own gimbals so it rocks in a realistic fashion!

Into this world of Vikings and elves comes Erik (Ricky Mabe) a young man with the whole world on his shoulders. He struggles to tend to his invalid father while going through a messy breakup with his girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn). This wouldn't be so bad if Erik's brother, Bjorn (Mark A. Krupa), would help with their father instead of playing in the aforementioned LARP every waking moment of his life. However, in an attempt to patch things up with Evelyn, Erik travels to the camp the LARP takes place in and tries to find her.

The film keeps you on your toes for the first two thirds as you try to figure out just where this film is going. It has a very bleak tone throughout that is made fairly clear in the beginning as Erik struggles with his mundane life. However, once he makes it to the camp and begins to interact with the larpers you do get a hint of some actual fantasy adventure as Erik, in typical reluctant hero fashion, joins up with one of the game's moderators and other players, including his estranged brother, to find Evelyn. Only to find out that her role in the LARP is a princess about to be sacrificed in the titular "Wild Hunt" which will grant her faction an advantage in an upcoming battle.

This portion of the film steeps you in a world that you could mistake for a fantasy movie as Erik and his fellowship travel through the woods in search of the princess. This fantastical facade is intermittently disrupted by the typical rules of the LARP, but that only makes you feel like you're part of the game even more as the film progresses. It's actually a lot of fun to watch, at least until after Erik "rescues" Evelyn. This is where the film returns to "reality" and the bleakness of it all comes crashing in.

Recall that I said The Wild Hunt is a horror movie, and while the film does have some disturbing imagery thanks to Evelyn's faction looking like those beast-men from The 13th Warrior, the true horror beings when Erik's meddling effectively ruins the entire game for everyone. This is the final straw for many of players who just throw out the rule book and begin murdering each other in droves.

While I've pretty much spoiled most of the film already I won't spoil the ending, needless to say it's definitely depressing. As I said before, the best way to describe this film is bleak. It's only during the LARP that the film feels like it's more than what it really is, and that is the whole point. The film explores the theme of escapism and the bleakness of the real world. Bjorn is an excellent example of this, as he has escaped into this fantasy world to get away from the horrors of real life, like having to cope with his dying father, only to have reality bash down the gates of his fantasy world in the worst way possible.

In most stories the characters go through a change during their journey that is, in most stories, a change for the better. However, in this film, that isn't so true. Yes the characters change throughout the course of the film, but it isn't all a positive change, because the world portrayed in The Wild Hunt isn't one of high fantasy, it's real. The film itself becomes a sort of mirror for reality for us to look at, and it reminds us just how bleak our world really is and why many of us, myself included, escape it through fantasy.

And now that I've depressed you all, here's a picture of a kitten to brighten up your day.

(Image sources: Wild Hunt Poster, Kitten)