The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Road Games

Road Games takes the old adage that you should never pick up a hitchhiker and flips it on its ear. This taut thriller, written and directed by Abner Pastoll, sets up an initial mood of dangerous mystery, then proceeds to gradually crank that mood up until it pops. Fueled by strong performances and some genuinely riveting twists and turns, it's a solid genre film that delivers the goods in a largely fresh way.

Andrew Simpson plays Jack, a man hitchhiking through the French countryside following a bungled vacation. He doesn't have much luck getting a ride. Then he meets a fellow traveler, Veronique (Josephine de La Baume), who tells him that locals are in fear of a crazed killer who has claimed numerous victims in the area. Folks are simply too afraid to pick up a stranger. Joining forces, Jack and Veronique eventually manage to land a ride with Grizard (Frederic Pierrot), an oddball who brings them to the mansion he shares with his wife Mary (Barbara Crampton).

Part of what's so intriguing about Road Games is that you very quickly suspect one of these four people is the killer, but you aren't sure who. Is Jack the killer, ready to attack his new traveling companion and his gracious hosts? Or is it Veronique, subverting the stereotype that a serial killer is male? Grizard certainly seems off-kilter enough to be a maniac, but Mary is so unnaturally guarded that she could be hiding something. As the characters interact, you're not sure which of them to be suspicious of or which of them to worry for. This creates an air of suspense that keeps you invested, even during the intentionally slower-paced early sections.

At roughly the half-way point, Road Games fully shows its hand, and the tension abruptly kicks into overdrive. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game with increasingly dire stakes. While there is a lot of excitement in the film, the quality that makes it work is that there are underlying themes guiding the events that transpire. Late in the story, an important revelation is made one that frames everything we've already seen in a new way, adding a deeper dimension to it and clarifying our perceptions of the characters. Yes, Road Games involves people running for their lives, but it's also about something more intimately horrific. In other words, the movie isn't just an empty thriller, it possesses a human element.

Pastoll provides Road Games with just the right pace, starting slow, then (no pun intended) putting the gas pedal all the way to the floor at a very precise moment. Eben Bolter's evocative cinematography and Daniel Elms' striking musical score help to set the tone. Performance-wise, everyone is extremely well-cast, with each actor knowing exactly when to strip away a bit of their character's mystery to reveal the true motives underneath. Barbara Crampton and Frederic Pierrot are especially good, gradually showing layers to Mary and Grizard that we initially couldn't even imagine were there.

As with any movie of this sort, there are occasional small gaps in logic, or moments where characters in peril do the opposite of what you imagine you'd do in the same circumstance. That's just part and parcel of the genre, which fundamentally has to work in service of ever-increasing momentum. But Road Games still manages to be smarter and more substantive than many pictures dealing with similar elements. Pastoll takes a somewhat familiar template, then finds different, unexpected, and satisfying means to execute it.

( out of four)

Road Games is unrated, but contains sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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