'Road Games': Film Review

Road Games - H 2016
Courtesy of IFC Midnight
Stripped-down thriller benefits from its setting.

There's a killer on the road ...

A hitchhikers-in-peril tale whose title warns viewers not to take every element at face value, Abner Pastoll's Road Games finds a young English wanderer getting something other than the Good Samaritan treatment from those he meets on the highway. Genre stalwart Barbara Crampton (recent star of Ted Geoghegan's We Are Still Here) may attract some fright-fan attention to this Eurocentric production, but moviegoers will be more responsive to her co-star Frederic Pierrot and to the "what's going on here?" predicament faced by young leads Andrew Simpson and Josephine de La Baume. Though hardly overpromoted, the pic could generate modest theatrical receipts for IFC before finding its place in living rooms.

Simpson plays Jack, who's trying to catch a ride back to the Calais-Dover ferry after a tumultuous holiday in southern France. He befriends a fellow hitcher, the flirty Veronique (de La Baume), who explains why they're having a hard time getting rides: Locals fear "a serious killer" — make that serial — who has been leaving bodies buried throughout local woods.

Cue a solicitous driver with a fondness for roadkill: Grizard (Pierrot) gives the youths a lift in between gathering dead rabbits, and brings them (over Veronique's grumbling opposition) to the mansion he shares with wife Mary (Crampton).

Daniel Elms' score has been signaling danger all along (even when the action seems purely libidinous), so we're not exactly surprised when the vibe inside this ill-lighted manse turns sour. Grizard's hosting game is off; Mary's is off-er. (Crampton's stiff discomfort doesn't serve the pic as well as Pierrot's strangely pushy helpfulness.) Soon enough, Jack and Veronique realize they're not meant to leave.

Some of the surprises in store play better than others, whose narrative logic is difficult to fathom; then again, Pastoll's ultimate conceit leaves plenty of room for interpretation. But the action beats work reliably, as our hero struggles to understand the trap he's in and save the girl without getting himself killed. Saying much more would spoil some of the surprises these Games have in store — not to mention discouraging young readers from ever sticking out their thumbs on a French motorway.

Distributor: IFC Midnight
Production companies: February Films, Superbe Films
Cast: Andrew Simpson, Josephine de La Baume, Frederic Pierrot, Barbara Crampton, Feodor Atkine
Director-screenwriter-editor: Abner Pastoll
Producers: Guillaume Benski, Junyoung Jang
Executive producers: Reinhard Besser, Barbara Crampton, Simon Crowe, Walter Mair, Abner Pastoll
Director of photography: Eben Bolter
Production designer: Damien Creagh
Costume designer: Saffron Cullane
Composer: Daniel Elms
Casting director: Mathilde Snodgrass

Not rated, 95 minutes