HUNTING GROUNDS (2015)

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Directed by:
Written by:
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AKA VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH

Available now on DVD and Amazon Video

One of these titles is more appropriate than the other (in fact this one is not to be confused with the 2008 zombie film or the 2015 documentary). As you might have guessed, the more specific of the two tells you exactly what you need to know. This is indeed a sasquatch movie, in which a band of unsuspecting travellers find themselves on the run from the missing link. The name change suggests that the makers wanted it to be taken more seriously, which in itself is a problem since this is an inherently silly premise. But the film itself is lacking a sense of humour that might have helped the overall tone as it veers between father and son domestic drama and schlocky woodland creature feature.

Michael (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) isn’t having a good time. Following his mother passing away his dad Roger has accrued a lot of debt and is now totally broke. Because of this situation they have been forced to rely on his uncle Will to give them a place to stay. Unfortunately this takes the form of a remote cabin belonging to the family which hasn’t been used for some time. It’s not clear why this is the only option since Will is enjoying success in his business ventures, but it’s apparently all they have. To make things worse it has been vandalised by the time the dysfunctional father and son arrive… by intruders that have left weird tufts of hair inside the building.

It’s not a great setup, but I have to be honest it’s at least better than another band of drunken teenagers. The clichéd location isn’t ideal but it’s more believable in this scenario. Although the same stock noise of a creaking door being used repeatedly after they arrive drains any such realism. The down on their luck family narrative lends them a sympathetic side, with Michael wanting to get back to school that his father isn’t able to afford the loans for. Their dynamic might have made for an interesting tale of adversity, but it’s not long before other visitors arrive in the form of Will and Roger’s obnoxious friend Sergio.

Why he thought having them over was a good idea is unclear since they both hate each other, and it’s clear that only Roger has any patience for Sergio’s drunken behaviour. He’s prime Bigfoot fodder within minutes of arriving. Will on the other hand is a reasonable guy, though he seems a bit young to be a property owning uncle which is a distraction. Packed in a small space together with a lot of guns and a lot of booze, what could possibly go wrong?

 

The sequence of events that follows soon makes them all targets for angry creatures as a weekend hunting trip begins. Sergio also discusses how he works for a logging company on the same mountain area they are exploring, just in case his character defects weren’t enough to make him an unpleasant personality. The performances are pretty stiff to say the least but in the first act things were subdued enough to make it passable. Once the panic takes hold and the acting requires a sense of fear it falls apart and is never convincing. Actually saying “Bigfoot” out loud is not a great idea, so of course people yell it all the time.

It takes at least half the running time before any monster costumes make an appearance, which is a good idea under the circumstances. They leave it until nightfall to make the most of things, and the suits and make-up effects are reasonably detailed. Brief glimpses of fur and shadowy figures work well in the light of a campfire. The threat is never particularly strong though, mostly because of the basic look of the monsters here – there just isn’t that much menace in what is basically a spin on the loveable sidekick Chewbacca. They could of course gone in another direction with all this and made them a misunderstood bunch of animals that are having their land invaded by hunters or the logging company, but nothing about their behaviour is ever focused on enough to make it work.

As you might expect the old cabin is the setting of long stretches of the story, but it’s never used for the kind of tightly wound siege scenario that could be created in such a location. Even the inevitable high tension break down of trust between the characters is kind of rushed, so the results feel like they haven’t been earned. In a film where the big suspense moment comes from someone having to go and use the outhouse, it should just been sillier in general to cover over the problematic creature design and the weak acting skills. As a horror tale there are a couple of gory moments during the finale which are done well, but there isn’t enough focus on things like the obvious environmental theme, Michael’s pacifist ideals or the nature of the sasquatch group itself. A lot of layers could have been applied to the plot to make it more satisfying, but unfortunately this feels like the most simplistic version possible.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆



Mocata
About Mocata 55 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, foreign cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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