Along with Curve, Abner Pastoll’s Road Games is another hitch-hiking horror at this year’s event but it’s more of a slow-burning mystery thriller than a gruelling gore flick, Road Games substitutes gratuitous violence for stirring drama and stunning pastoral scenery. With decent performances and subdued tension, it’s a breath of fresh air for FrightFesters seeking more than the simple blood-caked shenanigans.

Jack (Andrew Simpson) is a twenty-something Brit, travelling across Southern France after recently splitting from his girlfriend. While on the road, he meets Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume): a jittery, French adventurer, cautious of her surroundings and curious as to why he is suspiciously without luggage. The couple bond and hitch a lift with testy, truck driver Grizard (Frédéric Pierrot) but after an obstacle stalls their travel plans, Jack and Véronique are invited back to Grizard’s country estate, introduced to his reticent wife (Barbara Crampton) and subjected to some worrying mind-games involving a local road kill collector and a serial killer stalking the French countryside.

Writer/ Director Pastoll skilfully develops his protagonists within an intriguing set-up but miscarries the film’s later suspense scenes. Engaging first-act drama rivets due to the director’s ability to toy with expectations and genre conventions while randomly scattering red herrings throughout. The first half is solid and entertaining enough to the point where you dread the imminent clichés, set pieces and violence that will inevitably follow. Meanwhile slight uncertainty simmers beneath the film’s surface, contrasting well with the serene country setting. When events do get hairy and anarchic, Road Games resists unravelling the type of eye-watering violence other films of its type rely on.

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Unfortunately the final third is clumsily crafted with a hotchpotch of diverting set pieces that hasten the pace but not the pulse. The story wavers as the cast saunter between clunky suspense scenes while doing their best to dodge clichés and stabbing attempts but regrettably Road Games brings little new to the table in terms of ingenuity. The lack of strong suspense and genuine scares are notable but Pastoll’s well conjured drama and characters are welcome in a sub-genre renowned for sometimes skimping on substance.

Horror may not be his true calling but Pastoll shows great promise as a director of drama with an eye for the evocative. Road Games, his second feature, is an agreeable thriller that’s light on gratuity but with likeable characters. Muddled craft and shoddy plotting hinder the latter acts but it’s reasonably entertaining if not a tad by the numbers.

Road Games
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Daniel Goodwin
Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.
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