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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 03.02.16] United Kingdom horror thriller

Guys, can we all agree that hitchhiking is never a good idea? Great, now let's move on and into Road Games, the new thriller by UK director Abner Pastoll that overcomes a somewhat trope-y hitchhikers-in-danger premise by showcasing confident pacing, great acting and expert skill in building tension and suspicion in the viewer.

It also helps that the film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Eben Bolter, who succeeds in making us believe that dreary 'ol England (where the film was shot) could look even remotely like the sunny South of France.

The film starts with an introduction to Jack, an English traveler trying to hitch a ride back to the Calais-Dover ferry since his holiday in France has gone to shit. When he meets Veronique, a free spirit played wonderfully by Joséphine de La Baume, he learns that no one is offering lifts because there's a - wait for it - killer on the loose.

But, stranded nonetheless, Jack needs a lift and accepts a ride from a gregarious Frenchman who invites the both of them to dinner with him and his American wife, with the promise he will drive them to the Calais in the morning.

While I'm sure you can imagine the film that follows this set-up, let me assure you that there are turns in the story that will leave you wanting to know how the whole thing ends up. Because, as the film's title suggests, nothing you see or hear should be taken at face value, a very notion that brings me to my favourite aspect of the film, which is how it uses the French/English language barrier to its advantage.

Road Games is French/UK co-production and Pastoll uses that fact to build some wonderful tension between Jack and the French characters in the film. Because, just as Jack may be misinterpreting events and meaning, so too are we kept unsure about what we "imagine" is actually happening. For example, a man holding a hammer and speaking a language you can't understand may seem a lot more threatening than he actually is. Or, is he actually being threatening? In contrast, your reaction based on confusion may result in further misunderstanding on his part. And then everything escalates from there.

Road Games gets to play with this kind of lost-in-translation confusion again and again in a way that keeps you constantly wondering if the whole thing is just one big misunderstanding. Of course, well... no spoilers.

I don't know if it's the French-of-it-all, or if it's by design, but there is an overall elegance to Road Games that elevates it above a typical genre piece. In the last act particularity, even as the blood begins to flow, the film has a Hitchcockian flavour that will appeal to fans of more thoughtful thrillers.

Road Games hits VOD this Friday, March 4 as well as theatres in LA and New York.

Recommended Release: Wolf Creek (unrated0

Follow Christopher Webster on Twitter.

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