Hunting Grounds 2017
A father, his son and two old friends arrive at an isolated family cabin for a weekend of hunting. A trip deep into the forest looking for wild game uncovers a tribe of Sasquatch that are determined to protect their land.
February 7, 2017
Bill Oberst Jr., Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, and Jason Vail
I was lucky enough to catch a screener of this film back in 2015 when it ran the festival circuit under the title Valley of the Sasquatch. I’ve just given this movie a second watch under its rebranded title Hunting Grounds. What may seem like a simple name change actually adds a ton of subtext to the film and greatly altered (and improved) my viewing experience. As Hunting Grounds, the film differentiates itself from your “typical” Bigfoot offering by focusing on a father-son relationship and exploring what it is that drives both humans and animals to hunt—and kill.
Uncork’d Entertainment has set this award-winning creature feature for a Feb 7th release. It won Best Sci-Fi Horror Film at the Toronto Independent Film Festival 2015; now writer-director John Portanova’s acclaimed film sees a fractured family forced to go up against an angry clan of Bigfoot. Produced by horror label The October People, Hunting Grounds stars: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Jason Vail, David Saucedo, D’Angelo Midili, and Emmy winner Bill Oberst, Jr. (Criminal Minds).
Official Synopsis : After losing their home following a devastating tragedy, a father and son are forced to move to an old family cabin. When two old friends arrive for a weekend of hunting, what begins as a bonding trip becomes an unimaginable nightmare. This trip deep into the forest will not find wild game, but does unearth a tribe of Sasquatch that are determined to protect their land.
“We hunt because it’s fun,” says unemployed widower Roger Crew (played by Jason Vail), which of course poses the question: What makes a Sasquatch hunt? While the beasts in Hunting Grounds certainly aren’t “friendly, like E.T.” the film truly explores the motivation of characters who are normally relegated as mindless forest-flunkies. This isn’t some lone, gentle giant, rather a clan—a family. Are they bloodthirsty killers who, like their human counterparts, hunt for fun? The film explores many anthropological possibilities for the actions (and reactions) of its harry gargantuans. It all results in a very dignified examination of America’s favorite cryptid.
While this is indeed a straight forward monster movie, Bigfoot works as a perfect metaphor for those who enjoy plumbing the subtext of the films they watch. We’ve got Man vs Nature, where the clan of Sasquatch emerges as loggers decimate and pollute their territory, making Hunting Grounds an example of eco-horror. Bigfoot also serves as the incarnation of man’s innate fear of the dense forest and, in general, fear of the unknown. Bigfoot is also the metaphorical “monster in the room” as a symbolic representation of the hostility existing within a dysfunctional family.
But allow me to allay any fears you may have that Hunting Ground is soft on terror: It’s not! There’s definitely a slow-burn element; after an initial sighting that does little more than confirm our deepest fears, Bigfoot remains characteristically elusive for the first half of the film. When he arrives, however, it’s everything a horror fan could hope for, with a 3rd Act showdown that features shooting, stabbing, and dismemberment. Hunting Grounds is also an inventive inversion of standard Cabin-in-the-Woods horror movie tropes, where a physical entity wrecks way more havoc than any pesky demon or poltergeist. The brutal violence is always juxtaposed against the phenomenal beauty of the Pacific Northwest, creating an environment that’s both welcoming and foreboding.
Miles Joris-Peyrafitte is the film’s lead protagonist, playing Roger’s son Michael; he has great, very genuine antagonistic chemistry with Vail, and emerges as the true hero of the film. What was at first deemed a weakness, his refusal to kill a deer while hunting, proves to be the most powerful tool in his arsenal; it’s his appreciation and respect for all life that sets him apart for his less civilized companions (especially the dastardly Sergio, played with villainous perfection by David Saucedo). Joris-Peyrafitte emotes volumes, especially in the first act, where his facial expressions and body movements communicate way more than his scripted dialog.
By establishing a conflict between tribes, Hunting Grounds gives its audience a chance to love and hate both sides; we can cheer for Vail escaping some hairy clutches, or applauded the Squatch for squashing someone’s head like a grape. But there’s something profound in this dichotomy: In a society, there are good and bad apples, and entire populations are often pulled into situations based on the will of the majority. Both sides present antagonists and protagonists and, ultimately, we focus more on the similarities between man and beast as opposed to any perceived differences.