starring Mary Buss, Laurie Cummings, Ginger Gilmartin, Ben Hall
written by Mickey Reece and John Selvidge
directed by Mickey Reece
Fantasia Festival runs from August 20 to September 2, 2020. For more details, visit their website.
by Walter Chaw Micky Reece's Climate of the Hunter is a delightful riff on '70s no-budget grindhouse psychedelia--a take on Stephanie Rothman's The Velvet Vampire that unlike, say, The Love Witch, understands The Velvet Vampire as something other than just aesthetics to be aped. Which is not to say Climate of the Hunter isn't aesthetically spot-on, even beautiful at times, in its filmic, weathered, period-appropriate way, but rather that it additionally captures that specific air of griminess attendant to artifacts like Rothman's picture: the feeling that it's not operating under any rules, so all bets are off. There's a maverick quality to it, and a sly sense of self-knowing humour that stops short of being self-satisfied.
Take, for example, how every time there's a meal in Climate of the Hunter, Reece inserts what appear to be pages from one of those weird old cookbooks, and adds a chipper voiceover describing the gustatorial monstrosity. Though I spent some time trying to decipher the power dynamics represented in each meal, I think what Reece is doing is more like how a Tarantino, for instance, would use a period-specific needle-drop to shorthand what will be various personal, mnemonic responses. Show me a bowl of dip lined with hot dogs standing at attention around its circumference and I'm instantly transported to the anxieties of my small-town childhood in bell-bottoms. The obsessive focus on food sets the table, so to speak, for the introduction of a used tampon in a glass of wine, not to mention a comparison of the film's centre-framed compositions to those of Wes Anderson.
Aging spinster sisters Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss) spend their dotage bickering with each other about whether their dog is a philosophical sort or just a dog when urbane Wesley (Ben Hall), a friend from their distant past, comes to visit. He drives a wedge between them almost immediately as the women jockey for attention, seducing them by launching into long, rambling stories about his adventures in the great big world outside. He knows poetry, drops names, is a wizard with florid compliments, and one night, standing in the dark with Alma, he regards the nature of starlight in very much the way that Mae in Near Dark tells Caleb the light from a star will take centuries to arrive in our sky--and that she'll still be alive when it gets here. Reece cuts to an image of a slow-expanding ball of light, then to a nightmare Alma's having, then to Alma waking in the morning, her impressive hair sticking out at all angles. It's quality stuff. When Wesley's estranged boy Percy (Sheridan McMichael) shows up and spikes daddy's dish with garlic, we start to get the idea that Wesley is maybe, you know, possibly a vampire.
A supernatural melodrama, a sly comedy, and a winning critique of a subgenre that functions as a worthy addition to it, Climate of the Hunter is a calling-card film for a director who's made more than twenty features but is making a big splash on the festival circuit with this one. It's a rarity: an instant cult classic that is so because although it has the style down pat (that part's a given, and arguably the easiest part), it also conjures the same alchemical interaction with its audience as exploitation films from the 1970s. Climate of the Hunter isn't clumsy, it's about clumsiness; it's played straight by a group of performers capable of being in on the joke without reducing the project to a punchline. Take a scene at the toilet where Wesley screams at his unrepentant son, and how Percy responds with exactly the right amount of fey churlishness. We get a sense of not only the rockiness of their relationship (obviously), but also how maybe not-so-great screenwriters sometimes write what they think is pregnant backstory that plays as unintentional comedy. Reece brings more affection than irony to his homage; I'm into it. Can't wait to see what he does now. Programme: Underground