A work of taut skill and playful interaction, Abner Pastoll’s rural game of appearances, Road Games, is a lithe and elegant addition to this year’s Frightfest line up.

When British hitchhiker Jack meets Veronique in the French countryside as he attempts to hitch a ride to Calais, little does he know of the madness that will follow. The road they are attempting to hike on is the hunting ground for an elusive serial killer…and when at last, they are offered a ride and a place to sleep by an amiable if eccentric samaritan, relief soon twists into distrust and confusion as the travelers fear there is more than meets to eye to this stranger, and things begin to devolve into a chaos of misunderstanding and suspicion.

Road Games is a work of constrasts: it’s a tense suspenseful thriller, but it’s also quite light and humourous. The balance between light and shade defines the film, from its visual composition to the representation of the characters. Director Abner Pastoll has his camera glide over the landscape of the countryside, almost caressing the beauty before the lens…and yet, he also deploys static shots where the pull from background to foreground is laced with ominous foreboding. In the interplay of these two motions, an aesthetic of harmonious disruption and dread is conjured as the sweep of the camera begins to suggest the onrushing of the darkness that lurks in the subtly of the film, while moments of static reflection becomes almost hilariously awkward, focused on the clashes between characters. This sense of contrast is reinforced by an excellent soundtrack that combines soft gentle rhythms with bursts of almost violent synthetic sound, to create a destabilizing atmosphere at once poised and frenzied. The performances within the film are also beautifully composed of contrasting styles; In Andrew Simpson’s Jack and Josephine de La Baume’s Veronique, the film has a perfect centre, each composed and yet burning with passion within…and perhaps something darker that is constantly teased and then repressed. Then they are directly opposed with Frederic Pierrot’s Grizard and Barbara Crampton’s Mary, whose energy is outward and constantly on the edge of a hilarious mania. Pierrot and Crampton are absolutely fantastic in their roles; kooky, full of expression and yet able to play the subtle elements of their characters, ones that will definitely reward a second viewing once the truths of the film are revealed.

Crucial to the success of the film, both as a thriller and a black comedy, is the use of language. Jack’s inability to understand French when surrounded by French speakers is played both for laughs as he attempts to piece together conversation between his hosts and Veronique, but more importantly, leaves him isolated from crucial information that could help him work through the insanity that surrounds him. It’s a clever tactic that, as the film develops, strengthens and reinforces the playful attitude of the film, as the audience is thrown one way then the other, in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock. Indeed, this is reinforced in Jack’s ‘wrong man’ position. He’s simply the wrong guy in the wrong place up against something he has no understanding of, bumbling through against the odds…a classic Hitchcock device, which works perfectly in Pastoll’s tightly constructed style, and deployed with glee.

As the film reaches a frenzied climax, the unravelling of events becomes almost farcical. I mean this not as a negative however, but rather as an intentional style in which the follies of the characters cascade to create great humour, and a sense of mounting madness as the sense of continuous motion and pursuit drives the film to its extremely effective finale.

Road Games is a beautifully constructed thriller laced with a piercing humour, but one that never takes away from the air of distrust and mystery that surrounds the characters, turning the idyllic countryside setting into a space of isolation and a curiously, cold beauty.

Frightfest London review: Road Games
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (7 Votes)

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk