Written by Richard P. Serin
Climate of the Hunter is an odd little film. Its unsettling surrealism and eccentric tone make it difficult to know exactly what you are watching, yet the story it tells is remarkably simple. It’s the kind of movie that dances dangerously close to the abyss of (what for me would be) pretentious waffle. Luckily, it always finds its feet just as a plummet over the edge starts to look inevitable.
It opens with an extended shot of a patient’s mental health assessment, from which the following keywords are highlighted: Delusional disorder; Somatic; Body dysmorphic disorder; Schizophrenia. It’s a stark and provocative opening and are given plenty of time to absorb the content. Then, after a 70’s-style title sequence – which feels so authentic that I thought I might have been watching a re-release of a long-forgotten cult classic, we meet our protagonists Alma, the subject of the previously seen psychiatric document, played by Ginger Gilmartin (Great Pains; If Looks Could Kill), and her sister Elizabeth, played by Mary Buss (Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart; She’s the Eldest). Apart from Alma’s aforementioned mental health problems we are given very little context. All we know is that the sisters, who have an apparently strained relationship, have come to stay at the family cabin and are anticipating the arrival of a man they knew from their younger days.
The man, Wesley, played by Ben Hall (Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer; Arrows of Outrageous Fortune) soon arrives, heading first to his own cabin. He is the epitome of dark and mysterious: a brooding, enigmatic, and possibly dangerous figure. Although when he introduces himself to Alma and Elizabeth, he is suave and charismatic, even if the threat of danger remains. The sisters are enthralled. Beyond that, I’m reluctant to say much more about the plot; this is a film that needs to be experienced rather than explained.
Director Mickey Reece (Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart; Arrows of Outrageous Fortune) and his talented team have created a seductive mix of domestic drama and social commentary, with supernatural intrigue, surreal humour, and shocking imagery. It’s not scary, and for the majority of its 82-minute running time it’s not really a horror, but its off kilter, dreamlike quality is unsettling. There were times when I felt lost; I couldn’t tell if the film was saying something too clever for me to understand, or if it was being intentionally perplexing. Thankfully, these moments never lingered enough to become alienating. The characters also dabble in the sort of philosophical discussions that seem better suited to the smoke-filled corners of student accommodation, but these faintly ridiculous utterances reflect more on the characters, and the relationships between them, than on the film as a whole. In the opening scene, as Elizabeth is giving her sisters dog, Otis (who inexplicably wears the ‘cone of shame’ throughout), an enthusiastic fuss, Alma remarks, ‘he’s not going to respond to that.’ When challenged she adds, ‘he’s just not like other dogs. He’s more philosophical than that, thank God.’ With tongue thrust firmly in cheek, and in more ways than one, this is a sign of things to come.
Something deeper lurks beneath the 70’s TV drama styling (it’s even shot in 4:3 aspect ratio); the opaque dream logic; the cannabinoid infused philosophy; and the familial psychodrama. This film has things to say, on things such as the cost of pursing a life of personal freedom, to oneself and to others. It asks difficult questions about how we might care for loved ones who suffer from cognitive disease or debilitating mental illness. What sacrifices do we make? Do we act out of our own self-interest, or in the interests of those we love? Do we regret the decisions we make? Do they burden us with guilt?
It could also be argued that this is a film about how we deal with our own mental health difficulties, but I don’t think so. This is a film about how people deal with, don’t deal with, or even exploit the mental health issues of others.
If that isn’t enough, there’s also an overarching theme of toxic masculinity, which it explores in a way that I found refreshing, and somewhat challenging. Yes, it scrutinises the actions of the toxic male – with his predatory intentions, leering gaze, and sly manipulations – but it also turns its attention to the potential role other women can play in facilitating the status-quo: by competing with each other, deceiving each other, and ultimately turning on those women who dare to challenge and resist. It’s provocative stuff.
Climate of the Hunter is a difficult film to describe. It’s certainly weird, it’s oddly unsettling, and the horror can seem elusive, but I found it engaging, fun, and thought-provoking. I didn’t understand everything it showed me, but I don’t think I was meant to. I can see it being described as a ‘Marmite’ film – you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, but my response would contradict this claim. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it; although I did enjoy it. Having said that, some people will definitely love this film, and some will definitely hate it, but for just under an hour and a half of your time, I’d say it’s worth a look.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5