[Fantasia 2020 Review] 'Climate of the Hunter' is an Atmospheric Slow-Burn that Skewers Patriarchal Hierarchies & Misogyny
Most of us can agree that the “but is it horror?” debate is a tired one...
...It often feels like an excuse for someone to slag a movie they didn’t connect with, and it always seems to end with our genre being stripped of the nuance and complexity that makes it so special. Making its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, Climate of the Hunter (the latest from writer/director Mickey Reece written with John Selvidge) is a subtle, atmospheric, slow-burning film that skewers patriarchal hierarchies and misogyny in a way that’s both captivating and kind of hilarious. And it also happens to have a vampire in it. Maybe? Let the bickering begin.
Three childhood friends reunite for a weekend of dining, conversation, and boat-loads of sexual tension. There’s Alma (Ginger Gilmartin), a free spirit with a slew of blossoming mental illnesses and a penchant for the wacky tobacky; Elizabeth (Mary Buss), Alma’s elegant and repressed sister; and Wesley (Ben Hall), an intensely charming and worldly writer. As the chums catch up (and a bizarre love triangle begins to manifest) Alma starts to think that there’s more to Wesley than meets the eye. With animosity developing between her and Elizabeth, and aspects of her troubled past coming to light, Alma becomes more and more convinced that her old friend may actually be a vampire. And when her daughter Rose (Danielle Evon Ploeger) appears to catch Wesley’s attention, those suspicions take a deadly turn.
There is so much to love about this film that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, let’s talk about aesthetics: I would gladly wear every article of clothing featured in Climate of the Hunter. Gaudy-luxury drips from Elizabeth and Wesley’s getups, and Alma looks like the best kind of Janis Joplin impersonator. Even if the film’s story was shit, I would still be on the edge of my seat if only in anticipation to see what the characters were wearing from scene to scene. Costume designer Jack Odell deserves a standing ovation for his work, as does production designer Kaitlyn Shelby. The amount of love put into the set dressing of each room is obvious, and makes Hunter look like one of those “eye spy” books you would pore over as a kid. Couple all of that with its absolutely beautiful camera work, and you have one of the most visually interesting films this reviewer has seen in a while.
The performances in Hunter are fantastic. Though played with a restraint that sometimes makes them appear cold and detached, Gilmartin and Buss subtly manage to breathe a sense of humanity into the two sisters. They feel like people who we might have in our own lives, and it’s that relatability that makes us care for them. Hall nails Wesley, providing the film with a villain that’s both captivating and detestable. He’s that professor who’s musings seem profound in the moment but nonsensical when recalled hours later, the kind of guy who still goes to student parties even though he’s decades older than everyone else there.
Ultimately, the most fascinating aspect of Hunter is the way it talks about misogyny. Wesley personifies entitlement and toxic masculinity in a way that feels real and not at all heavy handed. When we first meet him, you can easily see how his charm and man-of-the-world shtick could be seductive. But as we slowly get to know him, that veil drops and his true self is revealed: a creepy old white dude who sees women as objects he can possess and throw away at will. Is he a vampire in the classical blood-drinking sense? Maybe, maybe not. He certainly does seem to suck the life-force out of every woman he comes into contact with through his selfishness and self-absorption, and that’s good enough for me.
Climate of the Hunter is a film that refuses to be labeled or pinned down. If you took a deeply depressed Wes Anderson, fed him shrooms, showed him Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness, then told him to make a movie, this would be the end result. And even that doesn’t adequately describe what we see over the course of its 90 minute runtime. It’s that indefinability that makes me suspect that Hunter will be thrown onto the pile of movies whose horror cred is called into question. For some, deciding whether it is a “true vampire movie” will be more important than actually thinking about what it has to say or what the experience of watching it felt like. But if you’re willing to shed expectations and just let its ambiguity wash over you, you won’t be disappointed.
Climate of the Hunter will be available On-Demand through Fantasia throughout the course of the festival.
By Pat Brennan