An alcoholic drifter must battle withdrawal and psychotic rednecks after he becomes the target of a deranged sporting event.
Martin Dingle Wall
Taking a snippet from The Hunger Games and brandishing clear inspiration from the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, the new thriller from directors Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson – Happy Hunting –is a visual stunner!
Drug and alcohol-addicted Warren (Martin Dingle Wall) leads an almost lifeless existence of making and selling drugs… and that about sums it up. Until one day, he receives a call that a former lover has died and that Warren is the father to the lover’s young daughter. He decides to drive to Mexico to try and make a connection with the girl. Warren attempts to sell some low-quality drugs to make some cash for the trip, but things quickly go south with the dealers. He high-tails it toward Mexico, with no complete understanding of where he’s going or what he’s getting into. A few nights in a small border-town called Bedford Flats (population: 135) and things get even worse. He’s landed in this rundown and dying little burg – just in time for their annual hunting tradition. Thing is, with the town in a desolate part of the desert and with all of the herds of animals now long gone – the townspeople gather yearly to hunt something else… and aimless, degenerate drifters are somehow to be involved.
The film won Best Cinematography at this year’s 16th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles. It’s easy to see why, as nearly every shot is full of grandeur and spectacle – each moment a work of art. The film uses distant birds-eye views of the vast desert – with various characters a mere speck in the center. The sheer amount of “magic hours” (sunset/sunrise) captured in this film, must be some sort of record.
But it’s not all hunky-dory. I think one of the problems, was that we got very little history on Warren. He’s obviously effed-up his life, but the idea that what kept pushing him to fight and survive was a shot at seeing a daughter he didn’t know existed – felt a bit flimsy.
On the other hand, his need to get past the almost insurmountable hump of withdrawal in a difficult (that’s an understatement) situation, worked – all the way through the end, when he has a mouthful of tequila. I enjoyed that bit of his journey, but it was far from enough for me to fully care about Warren’s destiny.
That’s not to say that Martin Dingle Wall in the lead role did a poor job. He’s a very attractive and charismatic actor and certainly keeps your attention. It’s a physically demanding role, but again, we never get much insight into what drives the character. So despite Wall’s ability to draw us in, he didn’t have the script support to back him up and get us completely on board to see him through to the end.
The film had a few pacing issues throughout. The lead-up to the release of the “prey” was all intense and the well-done establishment of the town and its occupants created a nice and creepy build. But once Warren and some additional victims are sprung loose to be hunted, it became repetitive.
As beautiful as all of the desert shots are, how many more can we take? The hunt continues, but it begins to fall flat. Like someone traipsing through a hot desert with no water, the film’s energy began to dry up.
The film takes some interesting political positions – notably in the discussion between Sheriff Burnside (Gary Sturm) and his young grandson Junior (Kenny Wormald of Fear the Walking Dead) – as the Sheriff tells Junior about his trip to a big city as a youngster, and how homeless and other so-called “ne’er-do-wells” are just left to suffer and burden others. The town of Bedford Flats basically takes these types and puts them out of their misery. Since the town is a Mexico/US border community, you can also expect some commentary on immigration.
I got quite a kick out of the many (apparently local) extras playing townsfolk. The Sheriff keeps his community informed of the hunt via walkie-talkies, which are turned on at every home and every business in town. The silent reactions of what I can assume are mostly “non-actors” are priceless (especially the old couple).
There’s some great gore effects, in the form of gunshots and the painful trappings in a few bear-traps.
But the biggest highlights of the film comes back around to the overall look. In a desert wasteland such as this, you would expect a brown and very dusty, washed-out picture. And that’s what you get. The film is so beautifully photographed, you’ll be jonesin’ to frame a few still captures and mount them on your wall. I was most in love with the very dim light on the dawn of the hunt, and the reflections of the rising sun on the faces of the spectators. Stunning.
Frankly, if the film weren’t such a visual marvel, full of dark and dangerous beauty, epic camerawork and striking editing, I wouldn’t be as much of a fan. But it’s still interesting enough to find enjoyment. You will get no character development and any film needs that component – I don’t care if you consider your piece to be solid action/thriller. We need to care to fall into every one of your filmmaking traps (bear or not).
I do believe that if the filmmakers had a stronger script in hand, the film would have excelled. Admittedly, it’s hard to achieve it all. You’ve got the filmmaking portions and casting down pat and a budget to see your vision through. You just need more strength in writing and a story which will latch onto your audience and never let go.
Happy Hunting is a prime example of “style over substance”. I loved to look at you, but without something deeper, you won’t last long in my memory. Perhaps when I see a glorious desert sunset in person, I’ll remember you. But chances are, that fleeting glimpse of fabulous photography will be accompanied by a “what was that movie about again?”
At press, there is no information regarding a wider release; either theatrically or on DVD/VOD.