Director/Screenplay – Abner Pastoll, Producers – Guillaume Benski & Junyoung Jang, Photography – Eben Bolter, Music – Daniel Elms, Visual Effects Supervisor – Pau Viladot, Production Design – Damien Creagh. Production Company – February Films/Superbe Films/B Media 2012/Backup Media/Trigger Films/SC Films International/MCMC Films/Bandoola Productions/Movies Angels
Andrew Simpson (Jack), Josephine de la Baume (Veronique), Frederic Pierrot (Grizard), Barbara Crampton (Mary Grizard), Feodor Atkine (Delacroix), Pierre Boulanger (Thierry)
Jack is hitchhiking through the French countryside, wanting to get back to England. He intervenes after seeing a couple fighting in a car. The guy throws the girl, the French Veronique, out and she decides to continue on with Jack. The two camp out in the open, despite warnings of a serial killer in the area who has been targeting hitchhikers, and an attraction grows. The next morning they are picked up by a Frenchman Grizard who insists they come back to his chateau for dinner and meet his American wife Mary. However, the situation proves uncomfortable with both Grizard and Mary acting strangely. When Jack wakes in the morning, he finds Veronique missing and Grizard abruptly trying to be rid of him.
Road Games was a British-French co-production. It was the first solo film for South African-born Abner Pastoll, who had previously co-directed the thriller Shooting Shona (2004), which does not appear to have been widely seen. The film played at a number of fantastic film festivals around the world.
From its poster and plot description, Road Games left you expecting something along the lines of the classic The Hitcher (1986) about the psychological games between fiendish hitcher Rutger Hauer and innocent C. Thomas Howell. Or possibly something of the fine Australian road movie psycho-thriller Roadgames (1981) that this film shares its title with. You could stretch to point out similarities between these but Road Games, for all its title, soon abandons any road movie aspect and continues more along the lines of an abduction and imprisonment thriller. The nearest film you could compare it to is actually And Soon the Darkness (1970), which concerned two girls on a cycling tour of France only for one of them to be abducted by a serial killer lurking in the pastoral countryside and the bulk of the show to then be about the other girl’s attempts to rescue her friend.
As per And Soon the Darkness and other works that were influenced by it such as Bon Voyage (2006), Abner Pastoll and cinematographer Eben Bolter make ravishing use of the French countryside. All of these other works hold an underlying British distaste of foreigners and have their protagonists alienated among the French-speaking locals. This is not quite as strong an element here, although it is a little disconcerting watching the film as a non-French speaker and having substantial sections of the dialogue coming without the benefit of subtitles.
Abner Pastoll takes some time before reaching the horror element. This proved somewhat dissatisfying – although given the twist ending, you suppose it may have been difficult to pull off the horror element earlier than the film does. What you have is a film that keeps holding back on where you expect it to go. That said, Pastoll creates a palpable sense of dis-ease in the scenes with Andrew Simpson and Josephine de la Baume being welcomed by Frederic Pierrot and his wife Barbara Crampton where you are not quite sure what is going to happen. Where the film does work particularly well is at its twist ending and its surprising reversal of expectation. Here Pastoll does a rather effective job in twisting everything you expect entirely on its head.