Guessing Games: "Road Games" offers an off-kilter mystique before pulling out the rug

Road Games (2016)
95 min., not rated (but equivalent of an R).

A twisty tease of a thriller can work effectively if it plays fair with the audience. “Road Games” does just that, playing right into expectations and then defying them. The familiar and unexpected are conjoined in British writer-director Abner Pastoll’s thriller that playfully keeps you guessing who has been holding the knife. The film has tricks up its sleeve not seen coming a mile away, even if they might not all stand up to close scrutiny in retrospect, but “Road Games” is as deceptively constructed as it is compelling.

Down south and now walking through the French countryside, British bloke Jack (Andrew Simpson) is just trying to get home to England. He tries hitchhiking, but no one will give him a ride since there’s a serial killer out there who finds his or her victims on the road. On his trek, he runs into a carefree French woman, Véronique (Joséphine de La Baume), who gets thrown out of a car after an argument with a boyfriend. After skinny-dipping and getting a little closer as traveling companions, Jack and Véronique finally get a ride from a man named Grizard (Frédéric Pierrot), who insists they come for dinner and stay the night in his rural home. Véronique is a little cautious about taking this stranger up on his offer, but once they arrive, Grizard’s artist American wife Mary (Barbara Crampton) immediately takes a liking to Jack since he speaks English. Of the four suspects, who will reveal him/herself/themselves as a killer or killers?

As soon as “Road Games” begins, the viewer is a witness to the alluded dismemberment and burial of a body. Beyond there being a killer out there, nothing is what it seems; that much is clear. Writer-director Abner Pastoll pulls just enough out of his characters to build subjective assumptions that will eventually change. Luckily, the story trajectory is not telegraphed too early nor is it too easy to predict when the red herrings are so savvily planted. Before the final reveals, the success of the film is owed deeply to the performances. To read the rest of the review, go to Diabolique Magazine.

Grade: B -