Road Games
"Though its tendency to whimsy means it’s not quite as tightly plotted as it needs to be, this charismatic little thriller still manages to punch above its weight."

Hitchhiking is one of those choices that deeply divides public views. Most people who don’t do it are convinced it’s really dangerous, that there’s a serious risk of being kidnapped, raped or murdered. Those who do generally report that their worst experiences come from people’s bad driving. Research tends to support the latter perspective – with exceptions. Every now and again, a particular stretch of road will become notorious as the haunt of a serial killer who finds hitchhikers easy prey.

Jack (Andrew Simpson) is a young Englishman in France, trying to hitchhike to Calais so that he can get back home. Somewhere along the way he has misplaced his travelling companion and all his belongings. His French is so awful that he’s sticking his thumb out underneath a sign that warns drivers not to pick up strangers because of a local serial killer. Frustrated at his lack of success, he starts walking. Along the way he intervenes in a fight between a couple on a lonely road, and so he meets Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume), and they decide to travel together.

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Filmed partly in French, partly in English and often in a hybrid of the two, Road Games is full of sly jokes about cultural difference, especially as it contrasts the free spirited Véronique with her hesitant companion – but beware, because not everything is what it appears to be. When the two are given a lift by a garrulous local man (Frédéric Pierrot) who invites them back to his home, they begin to feel uncomfortable. Over a stilted dinner conversation, the man’s nervy wife (Barbara Crampton, on fine form) becomes increasingly upset, especially when Jack asks about the murders. He apologises to her later, in the kitchen; their hands touch and, for a moment, fate almost takes the narrative somewhere else; but she is not free, she says; and upstairs, Véronique awaits him; and the following day, a situation he did not anticipate.

Though its tendency to whimsy means it’s not quite as tightly plotted as it needs to be, this charismatic little thriller still manages to punch above its weight. No character seems completely trustworthy and even in the most extreme situations, questions arise as to what’s really going on. It’s easy to sympathise with fish out of water Jack, an apologetic vegetarian in a place where the locals have a habit of cooking roadkill, but his own story has holes in it and the script is clever enough for it to be clear that they’re not accidental. Peter Baldock’s excellent sound work and Eben Bolter’s cinematography give the film the polished quality of a tourist board advert, highlighting the rural beauty that conceals layers of danger. The long tracking shot that unrolls over the final credits will keep you wondering right till the end, as a pulsing score by Daniel Elms refuses – like young love – to let go.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2016
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Road Games packshot
Two strangers travelling together in rural France find themselves in a dangerous situation after agreeing to stay in an older couple's mansion.

Director: Abner Pastoll

Writer: Abner Pastoll

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Simpson, Joséphine de La Baume, Frédéric Pierrot, Lou Castel

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, France

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