30th Oct2020

‘Hunter’s Moon’ Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Katrina Bowden, Jay Mohr, Will Carlson, Spencer Daniels, India Ennenga, Amanda Wyss, Daniel R. Hill, David Labrava, Emmalee Parker, Lexi Atkins, Sean Patrick Flanery, Thomas Jane | Written and Directed by Michael Caissie

Left alone for the night in their new orchard farmhouse, three teenage sisters soon find themselves at the mercy of some unscrupulous townie boys. The tables are turned however, when the malevolence that roams the orchard starts to hunt down the boys.

“Turning the tables” is the defining trope of exploitation cinema. The early 1970s was a time when exploitation cinema was in its prime. Wes Craven made The Last House on the Left and Sam Peckinpah made Straw Dogs but there were many other “rape and revenge” films at the time. The same debates about subtext can be had today with violent horror films. Was The Last House on the Left really about the Vietnam War? Was A Serbian Film really about the abuse of power of the elite? Was The Human Centipede 2 about anything at all? (in that case I am saying “no”).

I am a firm believer that the viewer can take more out of art than the artist may have intended, but exploitation cinema was always going to fizzle out quickly after creating such a huge, moral panic inducing, initial bang. A lot of these films do not hold up terribly well today and they are likely to cause viewers in 2020 to be uncomfortable. Not due to their graphic violence but in just how “exploitative” these exploitation films generally were. It is really embarrassing to watch some of these films in 2020.

A “rape and revenge” film relies on shock. A really, really bad thing has to happen to our protagonist in the opening act to justify the gonzo rampage that is to follow and this means film makers are likely to pour as much gasoline into that tank as possible to get the biggest explosion possible. This is a dynamic that is likely to lead to average film makers to make some nasty, and surprisingly dull films (Parts Unknown was a recent and particularly odious example of this). However, the genre does have merit today, if skilfully made. Mandy was one of the best films I have seen in the last few years, and that loads itself up on rocket fuel before exploding like a pink neon firework in the pitch-black sky.

Hunter’s Moon features Katrina Bowden (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) as our protagonist. Mum and Dad are obsessed with “protecting her” but she seems to be keen on throwing herself at literally every man she meets, and none of that quite makes any sense. Character development of the family is also a missed step, we spend too much time repeating the same points and too little time getting any real character development.

Her family (mum, traumatized Dad and three sisters) leave the big city to move to a new home in the back and beyond to be somewhere “quiet” and “safe”. Sadly, their pick is neither. Acting is of a reasonable standard, but direction and style feels “made for TV movie”. I also do not remember The Last House on the Left featuring so much prominent product placement.

The script is rather clunky. I lost count of the number of times the dad said the word “safe”. Sometimes it is better to just let the viewer infer things in a more natural way. The plot of a film is naturally a mechanical device, but skilful film makers have a habit of hiding the strings on their puppet. Here I seem to have more strings than puppet.

Our skeevy gang of “no goodun’s” also seems rather miscast, the actors seem like a lovely bunch of young men. Hunter’s Moon is also rife with slight inaccuracies that frustrate me. We are told that the house is “really old”, but we have just seen the outside, it is a beautiful new house… we can see those beautiful, new wood floors.

25 minutes in and our family are in their new home and experiencing a home invasion situation a la Funny Games that quickly turns into a party. Hunter’s Moon does play with conventions slightly, usually in horror the “virgin” is the protagonist but here she gets rather short shrift. There is a lot of shouting and pointing knives before anything particularly gruesome happens. A decent amount of time is spent before the blood starts to flow and the bodies stack up, but this time is largely wasted. Other than the fact our protagonist is “up for it” and the Dad had a trauma we really do not learn anything further about our victims or our gang of antagonists. We get more character development in the first 25 seconds of The Raid with no speaking than we do of 25 ponderous minutes of talking in circles here. I can see they are holding off for the big, pay off but sadly we never really get it.

Why characters behave the way they do is largely a mystery to me, and I did not build up the connection with any of the characters to make any of it especially meaningful for me. In fact, our protagonist comes across as someone just waiting for society to break down so she can cut lose and join Toecutter or Negan in committing atrocities in a post society future hellscape (so 2023 then, judging by current global events).

Until I saw Mandy, I would have said that the “exploitation” genre, was long dead but that film changed that. What is most interesting is Mandy is not a Cabin in the Woods style genre meta-analysis, nor does it play with the conventions of the genre in any meaningful way. It is just an excellent film made with complete authenticity. I would have loved it without the sword fight with chainsaws but, I just call that the cherry on the top.

As for Hunter’s Moon, I cannot see any reason for hard up viewers to part with cash to see this unless they consider themselves a horror historian.


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