30th Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘Road Games’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Simpson, Joséphine de La Baume, Frédéric Pierrot, Lou Castel | Written and Directed by Abner Pastoll


Set in rural France (but shot for the most part here in the UK) Road Games sees hitchhiker Jack rescues Véronique from a road rage altercation. Alone on the road the twosome decide to travel together for safety’s sake after learning a serial killer is cutting a murderous swathe through the region. Tired and hungry they decide against their better judgment to take up an offer to stay the night at a mysterious elderly couple’s mansion…

It’s safe to say the story in Road Games is actually a well-worn trope of the horror genre – so much so that my suspicions about where the film was headed was all but confirmed way before the big reveal (that may also be because I’ve seen way too many horror films to not figure it out); but writer/director Abner Pastoll does his damnedest to keep you guessing for a while as to just who to actually trust in this taut UK/France co-production; which shares a lot in common with the classic 70s movie And Soon the Darkness, moreso than just the setting. Both films deal with being a stranger in a foreign country, not knowing where to turn and who to trust.

And trust is at the heart of this story. After all, this is a tale of two hitchhikers making their way across France – and trusting the person who’s giving you a ride in that situation is vital. One wrong decision and… well you get Road Games. The film is also something of a Gallic Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (actually maybe more like part two with its road-set opening) without the chainsaws but still with that same creepy atmosphere, taxidermied animals in place of corpses, and with more creepy French people than you can shake a stick at. Plus Barbara Crampton.

Besides the being stylistically similar to And Soon the Darkness, there’s a real Dolls vibe from Road Games, in particular the house in the middle of nowhere, the creepy old couple. But Dolls is not the only 80s film to have had an influence on the film. Stick around during the credits you’ll see Crampton recreating that final scene, and that amazing scream, from the end of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond! Plus the film has, much like last years The Guest, a synth score that could’ve stepped out of a John Carpenter movie, provided by composer Daniel Elms and musician Carpenter Brut no less (not a coincidence I’m sure)!

What also marks Road Games as one to watch, especially on the big screen, is the fantastic use of the isolated countryside setting – which looks absolutely gorgeous thanks to yet more stunning work from director of photography Eben Bolter. His work here only reaffirms my belief that Bolter is one of the best British DP’s working today – just check out his work on last years Frightfest flick The Forgotten for more evidence of that. Bolter’s visuals are ably assisted by colourist Lee Clappison (Kick-Ass, Shame), who makes the British countryside in which this was filmed seem warm and luscious – no doubt a far cry from how it looked in camera!

Its thanks to the films fantastic production and superb casting (there really isn’t one dud performance in the whole cast), that Road Games manages to successfully triumph over its shortcomings – namely the familiar plot and twist you can see coming – to become a fantastic dread-filled slice of Gallic terror.

**** 4/5


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