27th Feb2017

Glasgow Frightfest ’17: ‘Happy Hunting’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Martin Dingle Wall, Ken Lally, Kenny Wormald, Connor Williams, Gary Sturm, C.J. Baker, Jeremy Lawson, Michael Tipps, Liesel Hanson, Kenneth Billings | Written and Directed by Joe Dietsch, Louie Gibson

happy-hunting-poster

Warren is an alcoholic, degenerate, drifter. On his way down to Mexico he finds himself stranded in Bedford Flats a one-horse town deep in the American desert. Unfortunately for him the town’s pastime is rounding up drifters and hunting them as part of an elaborate sporting event. This most dangerous and deadly game and bloody fight for survival that builds to a violent, vile, live-or-die showdown in the desert.

Once again the classic “Most Dangerous Game” story is mined for another take on the hunting humans theme… This time round filmmakers Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson lace their particular tale with an incredible streak of black humour that provides a distraction from the all-too familiar tale. Black humour that starts almost immediately (the early scenes of “accidental” kills are hilarious in their macabre-ness) and only gets bleaker as the film continues.

Yet whilst there is nothing new here in terms of story, Happy Hunting is still well worth your time. The film’s cast of odd, eccentric and downright bizarre characters are strong enough to hold your attention when the movies plot doesn’t. In particular Martin Dingle Wall’s central role, as the troubled Warren. His portrayal of a man both desperate to reach a child he never knew and the battle with his alcoholism – present in his shaking hands, hallucinations and unquenching thirst for alcohol of ANY kind (the scenes in which Warren downs mouthwash and a strange home-made ethanol concotion are immensely powerful, if somewhat out of place with the rest of the average cast of characters) – is both compelling and complicated, far from his roles in the Australian TV shows many in the UK will be familiar with.

Then there is the setting, the bleak dry desert of the Salton Sea and the surrounding area – almost as unforgiving as the townsfolk of Bedford Flats and just as troublesome to our protagonist. Though the destruction reeked by the trigger happy hunters of the town is at once beautiful and grotesque – with some splendid effects work, and – for once – superb sound design (the collision of a bullet has never sounded more viscious), that gives the kills a truly creative edge. The harshness of the desert is matched by Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson’s directorial style, which harkens back to the dusty vision of the Old West, whilst at the same time a dark and gritty as a Tarantino movie.

Whilst Happy Hunting features an all-too familiar story, the execution – a marvelous confluence of cast, location and production – raises the film above over of the same ilk, and marks the auspicious debut of a new genre filmmaking duo.

***½  3.5/5

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