AVAILABLE ON DVD AND AMAZON PRIME: NOW, from DAZZLER MEDIA
RUNNING TIME: 81 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Sisters Juliet, Lisa, and Wendy and their parents Thomas and Bernice are moving into a new house with an orchard away from the city; unbeknownst to the sisters, the house used to be owned by serial killer Martin Ellsbury. While on the way to the house Juliet meets Billy, a bad boy who catches Juliet’s eye. When Thomas and Bernice go on a trip, leaving their daughters at home, Billy and his brothers Lenny and Daryl decide to pay a surprise visit to the house to rob it. However, there seems to be a monster in the orchard….
When Bat our webmistress let us know that there was a digital screener for a film called Hunter’s Moon, I distinctly remembered reading about a Canadian film of that title last year that seemed to blend lycanthropy and computer gaming. Despite probably being the one out of all of us who write for the website who’s least interested in gaming, I thought it sounded quite interesting. However, as it turned out, this Hunter’s Moon is a different beast, mixing werewolves, home invasion thrills and plot twists that are either silly or unsurprising – writer/director Michael Caissie just hasn’t learnt the knack of subtly setting up revelations so they come as a surprise while also getting you to think; “Hang on, there was that bit and that bit where I should have picked up on things”. Instead he all-but-tells you that something’s up from the get go so that perceptive viewers will probably work it out, meaning that you may just end up shrugging come the ending. I should tell you right away that the werewolf side of things is set aside for much of the first half, and we only get one decent look at the werewolf, though I still enjoy this old fashioned kind of subtlety sometimes so I wasn’t too bothered. Whether you’re impressed with his appearance or not may very well depend on how you feel about CGI versus a person in a suit. I tend to prefer the latter, and didn’t even find the suit to be too bad, resembling some of the werewolves in the Howling sequels, though we never get a full view of it; it’s all close-ups.
So let’s get back to the beginning, and we open with a man, who’s actually serial killer Martin Ellsbury [played by Sean Patrick Flanery], entertaining a lady in his house. She feels that she ought to leave, but he wants her to stay. It initially seems like he wants sex, and one gets a sense that he’s going to try to get sex whether she’s enthusiastic or not. Then some blurry POV tells us that the woman has been drugged, and the man cries out, “you are exactly like all the other whores who come here” before strangling her to death, though the angles chosen to film this don’t show the act to its best advantage. He then wraps her body up and drags it out into the garden where he proceeds to bury it, and boy do they go overboard with the fog here – I usually love fog in horror films but it tends to work best combined with an interesting set, and here it just seems as if they accidentally left the fog machine on for a very long time. We hear the growling of some creature and the man flees in panic through the pathways of the orchard, but the thing catches up with him and drags him away to disappointingly kill him off screen. It’s not a bad opening though, even if it’s the only time the film really exploits the idea of serial killers and werewolves in the same movie.
On their way to the same house are the Delaney family – Thomas the father, Bernice the mother and their three daughters Juliet, Lisa and Wendy. Only Juliet seems to have much of a character, her siblings being sensible and that’s about it. Juliet is rude, stupid, and crazy for anything in trousers. When the family go into a shop to buy a few bits en route to their new home, she instantly starts flirting with a shoplifter named Billy Bloomfield without actually saying anything until the scene concludes with somebody uttering a line that virtually gives the whole bloody game away; of course I’m not going to repeat it here, but honestly – I mean – come on! Does Caissie think the people who’re going to watch this film are idiots? It’s pretty condescending. The shopkeeper stops Billy from nicking stuff and warns Juliet off him, then rings the Sheriff when everyone’s gone. Not long after this, Juliet has to be all-but held back by her parents from jumping on the engineer who’s setting up their cable TV – which leads me to mentioning how the film seems to vaguely take place in a time before phones and the internet became common. Nobody seems to have a phone yet the subject of having phones is brought up at one point near the end before being bizarrely dismissed. Nobody goes online anywhere. I guess you’re just supposed to believe that the events occur in a place where there’s little or no reception, and it’s a nice change not to have certain modern horror cliches present, like someone doing detective work on line – these scenes are usually so boring!
We learn that Billy’s not a nice guy when he impales somebody’s hand to a pool table with a knife. The guy wasn’t paying the money he owes Billy and his brothers Lenny and Daryl. Then Billy tells them that something better is on the horizon, this something better being the Delaney’s new abode. We also see on the news that somebody is killing young women all along a road, but you can forget about this because it only returns right at the end. Thomas and Bernice go off somewhere unexplained for the night but that’s okay, because it seems that Juliet is planning something. The Bloomfields stalk around the outside of the house and one of them gets in, and by god these scenes take ages without significantly increasing the suspense. Juliet sees two of them anyway and lets them in to join her piss-up, seeming to have expected them. Things immediately become very uncomfortable what with Daryl clearly expecting sex and Juliet – well – she’s so poorly written that it’s hard to know what she thinks [if indeed she thinks at all] and wants. I haven’t mentioned the werewolf for a while, but it’s still around, stalking the orchard and anyone who ends up outside, which happens every now and again, in scenes that appear to have no sense of geography about them – or am I just saying that because of all that fog? The ‘dumb hick’ act of Will Carlson and Spencer Daniels gets tiresome and the performing of 32-year old Katrina Bowden, playing the presumably 17/18 year old Juliet, really lame despite Bowden being a pretty experienced actress.
Thomas Jane soon turns up as the Sheriff, though he only has about 20 minutes of screen time despite what the DVD cover may lead you to believe. While he’s playing a hardly atypical Thomas Jane-type role, at least the actor gives his performance some oomph and shows the rest of the cast how it’s done, despite being given some lousy lines and a character who’s pretty ridiculous. But then much of the final half hour makes little sense the way things are handled. There’s actually a reasonably original premise here, and I honestly think that it could make for a good TV series. But things towards the end are too rushed for is to take in everything that we’re being told, even though the idea of having some dialogue that seemed dreadful at the time now make more sense is admirably brave. The low budget flick has the odd flash of gore [though not at all enough to merit the ’18’ certificate’ ] and, eventually, that werewolf which I probably enjoyed seeing more than many other viewers, used to computer graphics, will. But Caissie fails to provide any real style to the proceedings, nor does he seem able to ramp up the excitement quite enough despite all the threatening, escaping and chasing going on. There’s one really memorable shot of a character facing us standing in front of a window while, through the window, we can, for a second or two, just about glimpse a monstrous figure in the far distance. This led me to believe that the film will continue in a similar vein, to try to actually be frightening in more than one manner, but it doesn’t really happen. All we get are a few of the obligatory jump scares, though you’ll probably be able to tell when they’re coming because the volume suddenly decreases quite noticeably. This might have worked if it had then gone silent for a long time before the BOO happens, working the viewer up a bit more, but it only lasts a few seconds.
Another flaw is the darkness of some scenes; it’s one thing trying to be realistic but there are times where you can hardly see what’s going on – and I watched this at night with no lights on. Yet I probably shouldn’t be too hard on what is a debut feature length directorial effort by Caissie. It feels like he thought up a great premise but had trouble turning it into a decent story, and while I sense that he likes this genre considerably, maybe he should have taken more of a look at the work of some other horror film-makers to see what works, to see how some things are done well. Hunter’s Moon is certainly worth a rental, and some die hard werewolf lovers may find it worth purchasing because the basic premise is a pretty interesting variation on what we’ve come to expect; it’s just not very well handled.