Live-action role playing, or LARPing, is no longer restricted to wearing costumes in your mom’s basement while playing Dungeons and Dragons. Entire groups are dedicated to bringing to life characters that live in an imaginary world or past. There are rules to abide, and storylines to follow that advance the game. The participants range in age, gender and occupation. At Toronto After Dark, for instance, Lloyd the Conqueror is about a college student taking on a teacher in medieval battle.
Lloyd, Patrick and Oswald (Evan Williams, Jesse Reid and Scott Patey) are not the best students, allowing themselves to be distracted by video games and failing to put any effort into assignments. However, their latest showing of incompetence will lead to a failing grade and loss of their financial aid. Willing to do anything for extra credit, their teacher, Derek (Mike Smith), takes advantage of their desperation and forces them to enroll in his larping league. Their entry ensures there are enough teams for a final battle and Derek’s dark realm victory. But Lloyd takes their participation seriously, seeking the help of a high-level White Wizard (Brian Posehn) and his secret crush, Cassandra (Tegan Moss), a women’s self-defense teacher.
The film begins with a voice narrative akin to those that open fantasy movies, describing how darkness came to rule. It’s dramatic and sets the scene for an intense confrontation between the hero and villain – at least as intense a battle can be with fake swords, pretend horses and imaginary magic. “I can melt faces with the flick of a finger… and roll of an eight-sided die,” boasts a player.
You don’t need to know anything about role playing, or have even heard of larping before, to enjoy this movie. The script is clever and funny, and since the main characters are novices the uninitiated viewer can learn along with them. The costumes, character development, many-sided dice (including the legendary 1,000-sided die) and rigorous training provide a glimpse into this world. The game play is kept simple by limiting it to a series of battles versus extensive narrative play.
The actors are perfectly casted for their roles. While Posehn brings a loyal but humorous rendition of the script to the screen, Smith (better known as Bubbles on “Trailer Park Boys” and barely recognizable out of character) ad libs most of his lines and owns the villain persona. The Patrick character is consciously annoying, but there are moments that could have been better enjoyed without his input. Williams is a thoughtful leader with a good heart, and Patey just has a good heart.
An unexplored culture until now, this movie has fun without making fun.
The 7th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 18-26 at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Director: Michael Peterson
Starring: Brian Posehn, Mike Smith and Evan Williams
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