Werewolves. For whatever reason, they’re the redheaded stepchild of classic movie monsters. Dracula gets all the glory. People love Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Mummy (with Brendan Fraser) is arguably one of the best horror blockbusters of all time...
...Yet the werewolf consistently gets overlooked and outperformed, largely because it’s a tough creature to do right, especially on a low budget. Which brings us to Hunter’s Moon.
Written/directed by Michael Caissie, Hunter’s Moon follows a family that moves into the home of a now dead serial killer. When parents Thomas (Jay Mohr) and Bernice (Amanda Wyss) leave their three teenage daughters behind for the night, the girls find themselves bombarded by a group of unsavory men. But that’s not their only concern. Because outside, something big and hairy has arrived, and it aint Wolverine.
You could say I’m a werewolf apologist. Since they’re my preferred movie monster, I’ll typically find just about anything to take the sting out of how bad some of these movies can be. But in the case of Hunter’s Moon, the already excellent cast consisting of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Wyss, Mohr, Thomas Jane as a gruff sheriff, Katrina Bowden (Tucker and Dale vs Evil) as big sister Juliet, and a brief appearance from Sean Patrick Flanery can’t save this movie. And that’s a shame, because that’s a cast worth howling over.
All of the above do a fine to great job in their roles, especially Jane, who yanks scenes right out from under everyone as a true bastard who Jane clearly relishes in playing. The fact is, the cast all have their work cut out for them, because Hunter’s Moon on a first watch doesn’t make a lick of sense, lacking in character motivations that are confusing at best, and straight up non-existent at worst.
It all seems normal enough in the beginning…for about two minutes, before Juliet mentions the family is moving into a serial killer’s house (common knowledge with them all), setting Thomas off on a hilariously exaggerated level of twitchy anxiety from Mohr. Then there’s Juliet randomly flirting with local pretty boy Billy (Will Carlson) in such an over-the-top way that it’ll have you saying, “wow, that girl is in HEAT!” In just the first few minutes, the film gets laughs in all of the wrong places, and that’s before Billy and his brothers BREAK INTO Juliet’s home, to which she and her sisters say, come on it, let’s party, despite the fact that the brothers are obviously robbing them, AND despite the fact that the girls are obviously nervous and scared. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s not just you.
Of course, you can probably guess that there’s more than meets the wolf’s eye here, which Hunter’s Moon makes eye-rollingly clear. This film is as subtle as a hairy slap to the face. Juliet’s first line to Billy when she meets him at a convenience store is, “sometimes people aren’t what they seem to be on the surface,” and during the awkward party-not party, the teens are drinking Deception Whiskey. I’m not kidding. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but, I’d be wrong, because someone did.
Foreshadowing is great, but it only works when the film isn’t detailing the entire plan to viewers in the first few minutes like a Bond villain. Hunter’s Moon is full of hairy twists and turns in the road, but all of the winks and nods transform this wolf in sheep’s clothing into something that is confusing and frustrating, because not only does it cause us to wonder why the hell anyone is acting the way they are (Juliet humping Billy’s brother Lenny, played by Spencer Daniels, in front of her sister, for example), but I found myself wishing ole wolfie would take off grandma’s clothing and get to the damn point already, instead of continuing to treat the audience like idiots.
Hunter’s Moon also breaks all of the cardinal rules of werewolf films. This movie has: Zero transformations. All but one death done off screen. Minimal blood. And just one single shot of an actual werewolf. Thank god said werewolf is at least a practical beast done with a guy in a suit that doesn’t look too bad, something the film could’ve used more of. Hunter’s Moon is all bark and no bite. It’s more like a nibble that isn’t close to the satisfying feast werewolf fans will want to feed on.
If anything positive can be said, it’s that, aside from the excellent cast and creature suit, Caissie puts every ounce of effort into trying to create a spooky atmosphere. Fog blows through the orchard outside the home so thick, you’d think we were hanging out at Dracula’s castle. If no one had shopped at Spirit Halloween this past year, Hunter’s Moon could’ve single-handedly kept them in business with the fog machine budget alone. This isn’t to say the film’s scary. Are You Afraid of the Dark’s “The Tale of the Full Moon” does a better job in that department. But hey, credit is deserved for trying.
Despite a ferocious cast and a decently-crafted werewolf, Hunter’s Moon is a neutered werewolf flick that will have you howling with laughter, though in this case, that’s not necessarily a compliment, depending on what you’re craving. That being said, the open-ended finale reveals a concept that has potential for an interesting sequel. Whether or not that picnic basket makes it to grandma’s house is another story entirely.
Howl with Hunter’s Moon on DVD/VOD March 24th from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka