Judge Dennis Prince believes weekend Rambos should stick to paintball.
Blair Witch with a bow and arrow?
Much like its plot, where two men and a boy set off into the Oklahoma woods to film a hunting video and then something goes wrong, The Hunt is a minor outing that also expresses its early intent only to become lost in its own wooded interior. The story here seems simple enough and certainly has plenty of potential. Entrepreneurs Jack Hamberg (Joe Michael Burke) and Atticus Monroe (Robert Rusler) decide to produce a how-to video for hunting deer, certain that a lucrative Wal-Mart distribution channel will make them flush with money. They secure a leased hunting site and bring young Clint (Mitchell Burns) along to sport the helmet-mounted mini-cam. With Atticus at the main camera and Jack wielding the stealth crossbow, they begin their hunt—and their path to fortune—one chilly morning. The trek gets off to an uneasy start, though, when the three encounter another burly hunter illegally trespassing on their leased hunting ground. His warnings that they should just leave go unheeded, and the three set off into the woods. They wound a deer and then give pursuit, crawling under an unexplainable chain-link fence that appears intended to keep wildlife within its confines. Soon, the three lose their way after they have encountered mysterious clearings with unusual attending machinery. As night falls, it becomes apparent that the hunt is definitely on, but who's hunting whom?
Filmed in just 13 days in March 2005, Director Fritz Kiersch (Children of the Corn) achieved respectable results given his limited time and resources. There's an immediate tension established among the characters as we see the ambition in both Jack and Atticus, the sort that appears collaborative on the surface yet barely conceals a brewing conflict to come. Mitchell Burns plays the somewhat sissified young Clint, a boy of about 10 years who would be more comfortable grasping a video game controller rather than grappling with hunting gear. All three actors do a good enough job in their roles, and their performances, though not transcendent, avoid the usual low-budget ineptitude that typically afflicts DTV product. Unfortunately, in regards to Burke and Rusler, I kept sensing that with every sizable chunk of dialog they offered, inside their heads they were congratulating themselves to the tune of, "Yes! I nailed that bit!"
As alluded to earlier, The Hunt is clearly derivative of The Blair Witch Project and confesses as much. It utilizes the same first- and second-person perspectives afforded by the use of the video cameras, and allows us to walk in the characters' shoes. Unfortunately, the film also jumps into third-person perspective to provide further context and, sadly, breaks the suspense. And by switching back and forth between the hunters and a rescue effort led by underwriter Jon Kraw (Cliff DeYoung), the narrative struggles to keep us anchored in the unraveling situation of Jack, Atticus, and young Cliff.
As for the ending, it's definitely a twist, in regards to who's pursuing the hunters (I honestly expected something along The Hills Have Eyes), although a look at the DVD cover will certainly tip you off. Again, presumably hindered by a tiny budget, the final act is quick and comes off as the most that could be afforded. Afterward, you feel the film spent far too much time setting up the situation and not enough time in its payoff, perhaps as a way to stretch the film to feature-length running time. All in all, it's not a bad film but it could have been so much better. Had it been able to provide more time in the hunters-as-hunted content, and had it decided to fully adopt the Blair Witch POV approach, this could have been a taut and tense outing. Instead, this one just sort of gets lost in the woods.
As for the DVD presentation, this one comes in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image quality varies intentionally to represent the various cameras that capture the action. That said, it's a suitable image that's generally clean. The audio is genuinely pleasing, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track making limited but effective use of the rear channels. While the film is practically bereft of a score and the sound effects are largely attributed to the characters' dialog and footsteps, there are occasions when off-camera sounds creep over your shoulder to indicate an unseen pursuer. The extras include a 21-minute documentary, The Hunt Chronicles; it provides behind-the-production information but is clearly overlong. A theatrical trailer is also present although this film didn't see widespread release (although it should be noted it won an award for cinematography and effects at the Chicago Horror Film Festival).
So while you could certainly do better in selecting a sci-fi film to watch on a lazy afternoon, The Hunt is still a decent outing that's worth a rent. Just bring a compass.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Featurette: The Hunt Chronicles
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