HUNTING GROUNDS (2015)

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , ,

AKA VALLEY OF THE SASQUATCH

Available now on DVD and Amazon Video

One of the titles above is more appropriate than the other. As you might have guessed, the more specific of the two tells you exactly what you need to know. This is definitely a sasquatch movie in which a band of unsuspecting travellers find themselves having to outrun the missing link. The name change suggests that the makers wanted it to be taken more seriously. For some reason. It’s certainly a more generic name (and is not to be confused with the 2008 zombie film or the 2015 documentary). This is a problem when they’re dealing with an inherently silly premise, but the film itself is lacking a sense of humour. Which is something that might have helped the overall tone as it veers between domestic drama and schlocky woodland creature feature.

Michael (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) hasn’t having a good time recently. 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. It hasn’t been used for some time and it’s not clear why this is their only option. Will seems to be enjoying success in his business ventures, but it’s apparently all he can offer? To make things worse it has been vandalised by the time the dysfunctional father and son par arrive. The intruders have left weird tufts of hair inside the building.

It’s not a great start but I have to be honest it’s at least better than another band of drunken teenagers. The clichéd location isn’t ideal but in some ways it’s more believable. Even if the general scenario is questionable. Don’t expect any realism though. The same stock noise of a creaking door being used repeatedly after they arrive soon drains any sense of grittiness. The whole down on their luck family narrative lends the duo a sympathetic side, with Michael wanting to get back to a school that his father isn’t able to afford. This character dynamic might have made for an interesting tale of adversity. But  they’re not left alone long enough for this to develop.

It’s not long before other visitors arrive in the form of Will and Roger’s obnoxious friend Sergio. Why he thought having this guy over was a good idea is unclear. The two brothers both seem to hate one 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. Even if he seems to be a bit young to be a property owning uncle, which is a distraction. The gang quickly find themselves packed inside this tiny space together with a lot of guns and a lot of booze. What could possibly go wrong?

The events that follow soon make them all potential victims of angry creatures as a weekend hunting trip begins. But the biggest target is still Sergio who starts to discuss how he works for a logging company on the same mountain area they are exploring. Just in case his general personality traits weren’t enough to make him thoroughly unpleasant I guess. The performances are pretty stiff to say the least, but in the first act things are at least subdued enough to make it passable. Once panic takes hold and the actors are required to maintain a sense of fear, which is never convincing. To maintain any sense of dread actually saying ‘Bigfoot’ out loud is probably not a great idea. So of course characters say 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. Although the threat is never particularly strong, 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 have in another direction with all of this and made them a misunderstood bunch of animals. Maybe they’ve just had enough of hunters and logging company workers? But nothing about their behaviour is ever focused on enough to make it work.

Instead old cabin is the setting for long stretches of the story. It’s strange that no attempt at a tightly wound siege scenario is created with the location. Even the inevitable high tension break down of trust between the characters is kind of rushed, so the results don’t feel like they have been earned. In a film where the big suspense moment comes from someone having to go and use the outhouse it should just been much sillier. Some levity would help cover 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 narrative focus. The obvious environmental theme is wasted. The film could be more satisfying with some added layers, but instead this is the most simplistic version possible.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

About Mocata 117 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world 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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