IFF2020: Movie Review – Climate of the Hunter (2019)

Climate of the Hunter (2019)

  • Director: Mickey Reece
  • Screenwriters: Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
  • Producer: Jacob Snovel
  • Cast: Mary Buss, Ginger Gilmartin, Ben Hall, Laurie Cummings

Premise: Two sisters, Alma and Elizabeth, are enjoying a stay at their own family cabin, eagerly anticipating the arrival of a man from their past, Wesley. It is rumored that Wesley’s wife, Genevieve, has ended up incapacitated in a mental institution, rendering Wesley, to some extent, a new bachelor. Through the time spent together, Alma begins to suspect Wesley may be a vampire, though she also suffers from mental health issues. Elizabeth is aware of Alma’s deteriorating condition but has her own demons to face in this gothic, psychological drama.

Mixing a unique throwback vampire aesthetic with a modern psychological horror bend, Climate of the Hunter guides its audience through the paces of its macabre story in a way that will keep you engaged throughout. The film weaves its tale of horror through the story of two women at a family cabin who are competing for the attention (and potential affection) of a man from their past who has returned after a long absence. As their interactions with him heat up, the tension between the sisters bubbles up and his true intentions are called into question.

As the story unfolds, Climate of the Hunter plays with established vampire plot conventions with a wink and a smirk at the audience. We know the tropes and pitfalls associated with vampires and seeing them play out in this film amidst unsuspecting characters makes for a real treat of a viewing experience. We watch as the actions of Wesley (Ben Hall) carry all the hallmarks of a charming vampire. But we (and the characters) are never really certain of any actual vampiric proclivities. Is he really a vampire or are we and the characters paranoid? The film rides that line in such a way that it offers even more suspense throughout the proceedings.

Climate of the Hunter is a film that flirts heavily with a luscious aesthetic that’s infused by gothic horror lighting and framing. Tight shots on pairs of characters in close quarters at night where the lighting casts heavy shadows over them is a recurring motif throughout the movie. Daytime scenes where shots are overexposed to create an entrancing glow are prevalent as well. These are unique visual choices that help to evoke memories of 70s and 80s grindhouse style horror while also keeping the tense momentum at a brisk pace. The cinematography keeps us aware that we’re in a story where the living dead may or may not live among us and eat at our dinner table while the plot and dialogue work to convince us that it’s possible that it’s not the case.

The story in Climate of the Hunter leans into its vintage horror aesthetic and teases the adjacent schlock horror territory before wisely reigning itself back before making that full leap. There are frequent non sequitur shots of disturbing set pieces where the threat (and aftermath of) violent encounters reside. These moments serve to enhance the uneasiness of the film while the tension between the sisters mounts. It’s effective and always a surprise. When a characters reach certain turning points, they come with surprises that pay off the strong goodwill established by well-paced, occasionally surreal, tension.

Adding even more atmosphere to the mix in Climate of the Hunter is the potential vampire himself. Wesley’s charm permeates through every scene actor Ben Hall is in and drips from every line of dialogue he delivers. Even when he’s simply being a polite (if boastful and ostentatious) dinner guest, Hall’s command of every frame as he imbues Wesley with this magnetic energy that is hard to deny is far and away the best thing about the movie. This charisma helps sell the side of the movie that’s a gothic horror ode to Dracula beautifully while creating a mercurial antagonist that Bram Stoker would be pleased with.

While the vampire work in Climate of the Hunter is very well done, the psychological thriller aspect of the film resides in its shadow. It’s not to say it’s bad or harmful to the finished product by any means. But the sanity and mental stability that’s called into question about one of the sisters leaves just a little bit to be desired. The wedge it drives between them exhibits some good drama and leads the way for some strong acting from Mary Buss and Ginger Gilmartin. However, in comparison to the strong vampire side of the plot, the psychological horror and reality questioning overloads the film slightly.

The technically flourishes and unique aesthetic of Climate of the Hunter go a long way to establishing and maintaining the tone and tension of the film. Frequent detours into visuals and sounds of dreamlike macabre set pieces deliver a surreal horror that will absorb you. But Ben Hall’s performance as Wesley offers a nefarious charm that brings the whole movie together. Climate of the Hunter is a full meal horror and suspense film.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/climatehunter
IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9755252/


About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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