Eye For Film >> Movies >> Happy Hunting (2016) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Ever since The Most Dangerous Game was first adapted for the screen in 1932, there has been an ongoing cinematic interest in films about the hunting of humans. From The Tenth Victim to Punishment Park and New Town Killers to Final Girl, the theme has lingered in the public imagination, taking shape in myriad landscapes. Happy Hunting updates the action to Trump's America, and uses the wide open California flatlands to challenge both director and prey.
That prey, as so often, is drawn from the ranks of those considered sub-human by their adversaries. Wandering into the dead-end town of Bedford Flats, assorted drifters find themselves befriended and put to the test. Out come their sorry histories of drug addiction and alcoholism, along with asurances that this time they've quit for good. Resistance in the face of temptation is another matter, however, and once the townspeople have assured themselves that these people are, as they see it, a useless waste of resources, they turn them out into the desert for an annual hunt. Even if the prey weren't going through cold turkey, it wouldn't be much of a contest. The hunters have cars and guns. All the prey can do is run.
Of course, not all addicts are the same. Warren (Martin Dingle Wall) is a former soldier whose alcoholism may stem from traumatic experiences during his service. Even in the empty desert, alone and unarmed, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. The problem he faces is that, unlike some of the others, he can't just run. If he can't find a source of alcohol, his brain will start shutting down and he'll be a sitting duck. He has to go back into enemy territory if he's ever going to get out of it for good.
Shot in just three weeks on a very low budget, Happy Hunting makes stunning use of the natural landscape and is delivered with a style that maximises the impact of its slender plot. There are echoes of classic road movies from Vanishing Point to Mad Max in director Joe Dietsch's sweeping cinematography, and it comes as no surprise to learn that he also handled much of the editing. Then there's Wall's performance, which humanises the stripped-down story, drawing parallels between his character's cathartic suffering and the experience of quitting an addiction. Wall gives us a depth and complexity that's rare in this type of story, keeping the viewer rooting for him all the way to the end.
A strong soundtrack which makes good use of original music and popular songs rounds out a film that is genuinely confident and charismatic. It's made with a finesse that's rare in such an inexperienced director, and it's an impressive contribution to the genre.Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2017
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