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Road Games | Review

Hitchin’ a Ride: Pastoll’s Debut an Assortment of Tropes

Abner Pastoll Road Games PosterNo, it’s not a remake of the 1981 Richard Franklin thriller starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, but Abner Pastoll’s debut borrows the title, along with elements from a number of other, far better narratives for Road Games. Curiously, for most of the running time, his characters are actually not even on the road, but this is only one of several aggravating details in a film laboring to conjure thrills solely through the use of withholding pertinent information from the audience for an improbable reveal. Though it has all the right elements to convey technical proficiency, this is a watered down genre treatment which does disservice to notable cast members, which includes amongst its talent the strange plumage of 80s cult star Barbara Crampton.

Jack (Andrew Simpson) is unwisely hitchhiking down a desolate rural road as he attempts to reach the Calais-Dover ferry and return home to the UK. Strangely without luggage, the few people who pass are too wary of the beleaguered young man to stop (and little does he know, a savage killer is rumored to be on the loose). On his journey, he is suddenly thrust into a dispute with Veronique (Josephine de la Baume), accosted by a young man who had apparently stopped to pick her up expecting sexual favors. Saved by Jack, the two nubile young people attempt to communicate despite Jack’s inability to speak much French, and develop a rather obvious attraction to one another. Soon, they’re scooped up by the affable Grizard (celebrated character actor Frederic Pierrot), a man who collects road kill and convinces the youngsters to stay the night at his abode because a strike has caused the ferry to be momentarily out of service and his expatriate wife Mary (Barbara Crampton) revels in the chance to converse with English language speakers. Except, when they arrive at Grizard’s home, Mary doesn’t seem enthusiasticso much as alarmed. Of course, something’s not quite right at the house and when Jack wakes to find Veronique has disappeared, everything spins out of control.

The biggest sell here is Barbara Crampton, the star of several noted Stuart Gordon films, making a comeback in indie genre fare, it seems (though she’s used to greater effect in Ted Geoghegan’s 2015 title We Are Still Here). Her skittishness seems out of place here, and unfortunately she’s more a glaring distraction, especially as opposed to Pierrot, whose sugarcoated hospitality belies a believable menace. However, Pastoll’s scenario relies too heavily on Jack’s inability to speak French, even when common sense dictates he would be able to discern more than he’s allowed to in this limiting characterization (but then, his wandering is explained as the result of a series of unfortunate circumstances after vague ‘partying,’ or whatever, in France).

Simpson isn’t allowed to be more than a mere register above doltish, which also deadens the forced chemistry he’s supposed to have with Josephine de la Baume (an actress who has amassed her own notable filmography, including the stylish giallo homage Kiss of the Damned from Xan Cassavetes). And yes, Eben Bolter’s cinematography graces with all the right flourishes, straddling the uneasy energy of foreboding and splendor in the rural environment, but it hardly seems to matter amidst all these unwieldy elements, including a title which also doesn’t seem quite apt.

Those looking for thrills, either of psychological or a more visceral nature, will be sorely disappointed with the meandering nature of Road Games, which is basically a scenic route of genre compositions.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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