Movie Review: Hunting Grounds is Big on Feet and Short on Frights

January 25, 2017

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

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When someone says the word Sasquatch, for most people it brings to mind the Patterson–Gimlin film footage of Bigfoot striding along Bluff Creek back in October of 1967. Many, including myself, believe that cryptid creatures exist in our world despite the fact that we may never have seen them. Of course if there was a chance to actually see a cryptid, certainly most would prefer a passive encounter at a safe distance. But if you wander into their territory, there are no guarantees of hospitality. This is a lesson that a group of men are about to learn the hard way.

Tragedy has struck leaving Michael Crew motherless and Roger Crew a widower. They are at rock bottom having no money and no home except for an old ramshackle cabin located deep in the woods of northern Washington State. This is a situation that will push an already strained relationship between this father and son, to its absolute breaking point.

As they move what belongings they have left into their new “home”, they also await their guests. Michael’s Uncle Will and Rogers’s best friend Sergio are dropping by for some drinking, hunting, and socializing…not necessarily in that order. These men are about to learn, that in a world where woodlands are continually shrinking, the creatures that live there don’t appreciate the increasing human encroachment on their territory.

Essentially this movie is more father and son drama than true horror, as it centers primarily on the relationship between Michael and Roger.  And while it should be Roger who wants to push forward quickly to better his and Michael’s living situation, it’s actually Michael who is the mature one. Sure he does have some of the trappings of your normal oft petulant teenager, but any suggestions about his father seeking employment are met with cop-outs about fixing up their crappy cabin to live in long-term. Throw in two visitors who also can’t stand each other, and you’ve doubled the amount of tension and bickering. John Portanova would have been better served by writing in some scenes that might suggest a Sasquatch may be lurking in the area or even include (as cheap as they font are) a jump scare or two.

It becomes a waiting game for anything Bigfoot related to happen. Even though there is a quick moment at the beginning of the film where a Sasquatch makes an appearance, its hands and torso do anyway, it’s about an hour before we see another one.  The only suggestion of one is in a scene where Sergio has a Bill Duke in Predator moment when he wildly shoots at a clump of moving branches, and in the process seems to hit one. At this point it’s understandable why these creatures may attack. That coupled with the fact that loggers on the mountain are destroying their home.

The acting was something of a mixed bag. As Roger, Jason Vail comes across as dull and monotone, except for the instances when he’s expressing annoyance. D’Angelo Midili in the role of Will is calm, intelligent, and level headed, at times almost too much so. There were instances where a little more emotion might have paid off but Midili did a solid job overall. True annoyance can be found in David Suacedo’s portrayal of Sergio. He was as excruciating as nails on a chalkboard, and chocked full of false bravado. He’s an absolutely unlikable character, but I that’s the whole point of his character. The real standout here was Miles Joris-Peyrafitte in the role of Michael. There is a sense of vulnerability as well as a certain level of maturity. He isn’t necessarily weak; he just seems to be shouldering a huge emotional burden and his father is of little comfort. Last but certainly not least is the brief (a little TOO brief for my liking) on screen appearance of Bill Oberst Jr. in the role of Bauman. I may be biased, but the addition of Oberst in any on screen capacity is a plus.

When it comes to the Bigfeet…Bigfoots…Sasquatches or whatever the proper plural form is, they were fairly well done. Rather I should say IT was rather well done since the credit sequence only make mention of “The Beast” played by Connor Conrad. As far as Sasquatches (?) go it looked very Wookie-esque. It has a tall and rangy physique, rather than being immensely bulky and muscular. And the facial features, while being static and motionless, were more Cro-Magnon or perhaps Neanderthal in appearance. Despite best efforts, the darkness could not hide the fact that the faces were locked in one expression, but you do what your budget will allow.

This film does include some gorgeous scenery, and features great aerial and ground level views of the films lovely forest setting. Once inside the cabin, it’s a bit of a different story. Having shot films in close quarters, I understand you take what you can get. Not everyone has the budget to remove a wall to widen the scope of an indoor shot, but it also adds to the tense, cramped feeling that makes the characters like rats in a cage.

What this film needed was a better ratio of genuine scares to human drama. After the first Bigfoot encounter at the beginning it becomes a game of “hurry up and wait”, which tends to frustrate horror fans. There’s only one furry beast that makes me weary of a walk in the woods, and it’s not the Bigfoot or Bigfeet in this movie, it’s the bear that mauled DiCaprio in The Revenant. While big on feet, Hunting Grounds was short on frights (AND BILL OBERST, needed more Oberst) and therefore gets 5 ½ – /10.

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