An alcoholic gets a call that an old girlfriend has passed away leaving her young child, his child, alone. He must travel to Mexico to meet the child he never knew existed. Along the way he stops in a small dilapidated town that was once a bustling mecca for hunters. Little does the alcoholic drifter know that the residents of this quiet town have an annual tradition he is now a part of, whether he likes it or not.
On the surface Happy Hunting is an exciting thrill ride chalked full of insanity and carnage. Underneath is a film that offers interesting commentary on how society deals with individuals it finds less desirable. It also shows a man suffering from severe alcoholism and the extreme circumstances it takes to finally make him quit his addiction. When you walk around any large city you see the “undesirables.” These are the homeless people, the drunks, the criminals. Typically they are left to their own devices by society. In this strange small town the people take matters into their own hands. Every year they have a hunting festival in honor of an age old tradition when the land was rife with buffalo. Instead, the townsfolk gather the undesirable people of their town. This gives them the chance to get rid of the riff-raff dirtying their town while also having fun hunting human beings, the ultimate prey. It creates an exciting, and often times hilarious, scenario.
The drunken protagonist of this film, Warren, has to have booze in his system at all times or he suffers the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Even when he discovers his ex has died and he has a child that is now his responsibility, he doesn’t stop drinking. It isn’t until he is thrown into the hunting competition, as prey, that he has to face his addiction and find a way to overcome it. What makes this aspect of the story so interesting is how the filmmakers show the great lengths Warren goes to in order to consume alcohol and how deeply rooted the addiction really is.
This is a film that has a lot of humor mixed into the insanity. While many of the themes are very serious, I don’t think this film would have worked without the humor. The idea that a small town near the Mexican border not only hunts people, but gets away with it, is absurd. By adding funny parts to the plot it tells audiences that the filmmakers know this is a crazy idea, so they made certain aspects more light-hearted and humorous. Often times this is seen by making specific characters hilarious caricatures and stereotypes.
Some of the performances in Happy Hunting border on being over the top. In certain cases this makes a performance stand out as bad, and in other instances it actually works for the character. Ken Lally (Heroes, Puncture Wounds) plays one of those over the top characters, Steve. Steve is a resident of the small town and Lally plays him as the stereotype of the happy suburban husband, much like you would see in old TV shows like Leave it to Beaver. This actually works very well for the character of Steve, especially when we learn more about his backstory. Lally does a great job of injecting comedy into stressful situations, as well as showing the many sides of Steve. The shining star of this film is Martin Dingle Wall (Strangerland, Cops LAC) as Warren. Watching Wall portray Warren’s ups and downs through alcoholism is riveting and he makes the audience sympathize with the character, despite the fact he is a rather horrible human being.
There is one big negative aspect of this film, and that is the effects. Many of the wounds and fake blood look fine. The issue arises whenever CGI is used. Whenever a character is shot there is simply dreadful looking CGI blood spray or mist. Not only does it look bad, but it seems unnecessary as well. The most noticeable use of CGI involves fire. The blood may not stand out to most people, but it is impossible to not see that the flames are very poorly executed CGI. One can only hope that the effects are fixed before the film gets a wider distribution.
Happy Hunting is a film that has it all; social commentary, humor, and intense bloodshed. This film even has a character that many people suffering through addiction can relate to, and maybe even learn from. It really is the “every man’s” horror film because it has something almost everyone can enjoy. The only drawbacks are some of the performances by the smaller characters are too exaggerated, and the special effects look a bit more like what you would expect from a Syfy channel original movie. All in all this was a great way for me to start my experience at the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival and International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. It is a film that will be enjoyed by many.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10