Fantastic Fest Review: CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER Is A Bewildering Marvel
Climate of the Hunter marks the 27th film by Oklahoman writer/director Mickey Reece — an astounding feat when you consider his first film was released in 2008. Atmospheric and broody, Climate of the Hunter blends elements of melodrama, psychological thriller, and arthouse horror into a complex and challenging brew about loneliness. One thing’s for sure, this is not your average vampire flick.
Set in the late 1970’s, two middle aged sisters, Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss), vie for the affection of Wesley (Ben Hall), a man from their past who may or may not be a vampire.
Alma and Elizabeth are sisters that couldn’t be more different. Alma is recently divorced and teetering on the verge of a mental breakdown, presumably from her self-inflicted isolation — or at least that’s what her sister says. Alma has a hippy sensibility to her attitude and attire, which is a sharp contrast to Elizabeth, who’s a workaholic with a tacky elegance to her wardrobe. The pair have gathered together at Alma’s secluded home, along with Alma’s “philosophizing” dog, Otis, to reconnect with their old friend Wesley, an alluring writer who recently moved back from Paris and ditched his wife in a mental institution.
After one dinner with Wesley, the sisters are charmed by his penchant for language, passion for story, and overall worldliness — which will also put many viewers under his spell. His presence begins to drive a rift between Alma and Elizabeth, and as they passive-aggressively compete for his affection, the narrative begins to take an unexpected shape. All the necessary elements for a juicy adult melodrama are all here, but Reece adds one more crucial element into the mix: Wesley could be a vampire. But is he really, or is it all in Alma’s head?
Climate of the Hunter is the thematic follow up to Reece’s Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart which premiered at last year’s Fantastic Fest, and it delivers all the atmosphere, dread, and imagery you’d expect. It feels like a combination of The Love Witch, Queen of Earth, and Vampire’s Kiss, with surreal flourishes in the style of Kenneth Anger and David Lynch. Like many of Reece’s other features, there’s a whole lot of dialogue-heavy scenes without much action, but it’s anything but boring and full of great lines, like “I learn to trust my intuitions and my prejudices.”
There are times when you just get lost in in the wonderfully lyrical, sing-song quality of the dialogue that makes you lean further into its hypnotic gaze. This is particularly true whenever Wesley in is speaking, who never has a shortage of poetic musings. Ben Hall absolutely makes Wesley’s dialogue sing, so much so that every time he opens his mouth he becomes a siren of sorts. He does a phenomenal job leaning into Wesley’s entrancing qualities, which plays right into the film’s narrative ambiguity. Ginger Gilmartin and Mary Buss also dial in playfully three-dimensional and refreshingly offbeat performances as the Alma and Elizabeth.
The film is endearingly ambitious with its shoestring budget, miraculously working within its limitations to create some seriously breathtaking and unforgettable moments of oddity and intrigue. The production design by Kaitlyn Shelby and the costumes from Jack Odell give the film its sense of late-70s milieu, with cinematographer Samuel Calvin providing a nice period sheen that only becomes problematic under low light.
Reece approaches the story with a clear, calculated vision and a tight sense of direction. He keeps the period feel alive at nearly every turn by favoring a locked down camera with heavy use of pan and zoom. The feeling of unease and dread that Reece creates is enhanced by Nicholas Poss’s score, which provides a nice pulse and really perfects the oddity of Climate of the Hunter’s essence.
Overall, Reece’s latest effort proves to be nothing short of hypnotic and hallucinatory. It does a very effective job of tipping everything on its axis. You’re never quite sure where it’s all headed or what to expect, but its strange mixture of elements never cease to amaze. It doesn’t fully stack up, and it stumbles a bit near the end, but Climate of the Hunter is a bewildering experience in the best possible sense.
Recommendation: If you’re into genre-mashing challenges that prefer dialogue and characters to action, definitely give this a watch.
Rating: 3.5 makeshift stakes outta 5.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!