Martin Dingle Wall
When an alcoholic drifter receives a call about an ex-girlfriend, who has passed away. On that call, he discovers that he's fathered a young child. Now with her passing, it's left the child alone. He decides to drive to Mexico to be with his child. Stopping over in a small desolate desert town, he gets more than he bargained for when he learns that the town is full of hunters that have a yearly tradition hunting day, only it's not animals they hunt, but humans.
When I first came across Happy Hunting, it wasn't due to something positive. It was the movie's marketing team being accused of ripping off Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin poster. Putting the posters side by side, you can't deny the resemblance. With only a slight font change and a couple of shades difference between the colours used on the poster, you'd assume that the movies themselves were somehow related. So initially, I didn't even bother watching it as I was a big fan of Blue Ruin. I didn't want to give a simple copycat the time of day.
It wasn't until I saw Happy Hunting pop up on Netflix that I decided to research a bit more about it. While I still had a sour taste in my mouth from the controversy about the similar poster campaigns. I decided to check out what the critics had been saying about it on Rotten Tomatoes. With being such a low-budget film, I didn't even expect it to have a Tomatometer. To my surprise, the movie held a 100% Fresh rating on the website. It was only then that I decided to give Happy Hunting a watch.
After I finished watching Happy Hunting, I was pleasantly surprised. As that age-old saying goes 'you should never judge a book by its cover', and I've got to admit that the saying seemed pretty fitting for this film. Clocking in at an hour and a half, it's a violent, fast-paced, and confident film from two first time filmmakers. I was shocked to see this was their first feature film that wasn't a documentary or several episodes of television. This is a solid debut.
The movie doesn't take long at all in getting to the gory good stuff. It takes only half an hour for our main character to be thrust into a terrifying situation of being hunted down for sport in the middle of the desert. From this point on, it feels like a game of cat and mouse. Only the cat seems to be an entire town of hunters who have placed bets on who can secure the most kills. The story never slows down from this point. It always feels like it's moving forward and for that, I can't fault the pace of the movie.
When it comes to the gore, the movie delivers by the bucketload. People are hunted, they are shot, stabbed, and maimed. People are decapitated, heads bashed in with a spiked baseball, and the list goes on. If you were wary that this might be your run-of-the-mill thriller, you would be wrong. While Happy Hunting indeed has elements of all that, this is an all-out gruesome blood sport that never takes a breather. You will be rewarded with blood and carnage.
On a cinematography level, Happy Hunting is a sight to behold. Being that the film is set in the desert, we have these sweeping landscape shots that capture the isolation of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The movie is drenched in these browns and golds that really make you feel what it must have been like to film in these arid sorts of conditions. I also found myself really appreciating the aerial shots of above where we see cars or people driving or wandering through the harsh landscape.
The issues that I have with Happy Hunting is that while it's incredibly violent, it still feels like a lot of the bloodshed may have been helped along with CGI and not with practical. Hey, I could be wrong, but whenever someone is torn apart by bullets or blood is sprayed across the screen, it looks computer-generated. This is distracting and always has been in current horror films. How hard is it to load up a squib? Give me a practical effect over a computer one any day of the week.
Lastly, I wanted to bring up the last problem that I had with the film and that was the ending. Our lead character gets put through the wringer in this movie, and for once, I would've welcomed a happy ending for this character. While he does dish out his own brand of revenge, the ending left me feeling a tad bit cold. One thing that the ending does provide is a pretty topical discussion about walls and Mexico that would fit pretty well into the current political climate. While I was unhappy with the dark ending, I did like that slice of commentary.
DEATH TOLL: 18
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A man is shot in the eye.
- A woman is pulled out of a speeding car and splits her head open.
- A man trips over and blows his own head off with a shotgun.
- Men are shot in the head, face, neck, chest, and stomach.
- A man is shot in the face.
- A man's head is set on fire.
- Three people are hacked up with an axe.
- A man steps in a bear trap.
- A woman is stabbed in the throat.
- A woman is shot in the head.
- Men are stabbed in the throat and stomach.
- A man uses a knife to shoot a bullet.
- A man is hit in the chest with an arrow and run over by an SUV.
- We see a man's decapitated head, and his hand's are cut off.
- A man breaks his nose in a car accident.
- A man is shot in the stomach with a shotgun and his intestine's fall out.
- A child is shot in the head.
- A man's head is crushed with a spiked baseball bat.
Happy Hunting is a movie that truly surprised me. It's a violent and bloody tale that feels a little like Mad Max meets The Most Dangerous Game. Gorgeously filmed and an assured debut film from two new filmmakers. At times frenetic and fast-paced, it should keep you entertained for the vast majority of its running time. While the film isn't without its faults, the positives outweigh the negatives here. For once, trust that 100% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.