It has been quite some time since I last published a Movie Musing. In part, that’s because I just haven’t watched many movies recently. The main reason though is that my soundbar died. With only the internal speakers for audio, my television emits a sound like angry insects attacking it. I did buy a cheap replacement soundbar, but that’s proven to have a bunch of issues. The most irksome is the damn thing turning itself off every twenty fucking minutes because whoever programmed the energy-saving functionality was drunk.
As a tide over until I can get a soundbar not manufactured by the Volvograd Vodka Drinking Champions, I have acquired a rather nifty pair of headphones. A little light on the bass, perhaps, but good enough overall and now that I’m used to them, I can watch a movie for a couple of hours. Yay!
So with that pointless ramble out of the way, let’s talk about Road Games. The movie starts with a close-up shot of some guy’s feet as he pulls a body out of his vehicle. We get quite a good view of his shoes. I wonder whether that might come up later? Hmm… Then we cut to Jack (Andrew Simpson) standing by a French roadside, chewing gum like Matt Damon in Dogma. He’s trying to hitch a ride, but nobody wants to give the scruffy looking git a lift. A little girl even gives him the finger for good measure.
Jack proceeds on foot until a car barrels toward his location, weaving across the road like a snake on cocaine. Pulling up just a few feet away, Jack watches as a furious man and a woman fight. Sensing the possibility of rescuer sex, Jack pulls the man out of the car and wins the company of sexy drifter Veronique (Joséphine de La Baume). His newfound travelling companion informs him that a serial killer is stalking these roads and that’s why nobody will pick him up. When it’s revealed why English Jack is wandering around rural France without any belongings, you do get the feeling that he’s just not a very lucky or perceptive man.
Someone’s Mom Didn’t Tell Them Never to do This
After a night of sleeping in the woods, Jack and Veronique finally get somebody to stop for them – a man called Grizard (Frédéric Pierrot). Of course, in-keeping with Jack’s luck, Grizard is pretty odd although Jack doesn’t see it. Veronique does, though, and urges Jack not to take Grizard up on his offer of hospitality. However, with yet another workers’ strike in Calais, Jack sees no other choice but to stay at Grizard’s mansion.
Of course, you can guess that things get even weirder from this point on. Despite an incredibly awkward dinner with Grizard and his wife, Mary (Barbara Crampton), some bizarre conversations and being urged to lock his door, Jack thinks all is relatively fine. Even Veronique managing to bypass his locked door for some late night nookie doesn’t phase him.
This is Fine
Jack’s ludicrously optimistic attitude is probably the biggest problem Road Games has. In fairness, he is shit out of luck for the majority of the movie. Still, this is a man who doesn’t possess anything resembling a self-preservation instinct. Jack is willing to go along with anything regardless of how creepy everything so clearly is. I’m not up on French social customs, but I would be wary of anybody who invited me to stay in their oversized remote home having known me for five minutes.
Setting that criticism aside, however, and Road Games really isn’t a bad movie. There are a handful of narrative inconsistencies and head-scratching moments, but on the whole, it comes together well, and the payoff is pretty satisfying. Road Games excels in building its mystery. The conclusion isn’t entirely unexpected as all the clues are there, but the narrative bends just enough to make you question what you believe and what you know. More importantly, there’s enough vagueness and mystery to make you want to know more.
Hook, Line and Sinker
Road Games is a slow-burner. The title might imply fish-out-of-water road-horror like The Hitcher, but the similarities are few. You’re not looking at a brutal slasher movie but a puzzle. I always judge such films on how well they hold my attention, and I have to say; Road Games kept me interested. My mind didn’t wander, I didn’t glance at my phone and at no point did I check how long was left. I was hooked.
A clever little trick is the use of language. Jack’s limited understanding of French allows other characters to reveal crucial plot elements to the audience but keep them hidden from Jack. At first, it’s somewhat jarring how Grizard and Veronique slip between English and (subtitled) French, but by the end, this stylistic choice makes perfect sense. As this huge moment finally reveals itself to us, Jack is left with no understanding of the danger he faces and only his mindless optimism to guide his decisions.
I do find a few other choices a tad contentious. A particular character’s actions don’t seem to further the story. Instead, their entire purpose seems to be a red herring, pumping in a little more tension to an already damn suspenseful movie. I can forgive that, though, as on the whole Road Games turns a picturesque rural setting into a heart-pounding nightmare. Colour me impressed!
I always include the trailer at the end of one of these musings. I’ll do so here but I will warn you, this trailer gives away much more than it really should.