2010s

Review: Mickey Reece’s ‘Climate of the Hunter’

Climate of the Hunter Movie Film

Climate of the Hunter, the latest weirdo offering from prolific indie filmmaker Mickey Reece, is ostensibly a vampire movie. However, in the grand tradition of films like George A. Romero’s still vastly underrated Martin — clearly a key influence here — the alleged bloodsucker isn’t explicitly presented as such. Ben Hall’s charming, dapper Wesley appears out of nowhere, waxing lyrical about his traveling arrangements in a manner recalling Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He dons a variety of gauche outfits befitting the cast of What We Do in the Shadows and takes up residence in a darkened lodge where he sleeps, arms crossed over his chest, like Wednesday Addams. Wesley behaves just like a vampire, but is he actually one?

Shot in boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, Climate of the Hunter is fatally enthralled by its own bizarre, overwrought stylistic tics, from the exaggerated performances aiming squarely for the cheap seats to the Wes Anderson-style PSAs about the various disgusting-looking meals being imbibed. The mood is very 70s, borderline giallo-esque at times, with a lurid color palette making certain shades, like red, pop while everything else looks a bit beige. Elizabeth’s (Mary Buss) eyes appear weirdly black as she trains them on sister and love rival Alma (Ginger Gilmartin), while Alma’s daughter’s (Danielle Evon Ploeger) own peepers turn an alien blue during a late-night rendezvous with Wesley. 

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Climate of the Hunter Movie Film

Alongside an entertainingly rickety, claret-hued animated bat, these moments are emblematic of Climate of the Hunter’s reliance on shoddy throwback FX to paper over the cracks in what is otherwise a thin, uninspired story. Reece is clearly aiming for Lynchian horror — although there are moments when his film also recalls John Waters, as is the case with one character’s dead-eyed gaze over surgically over-enhanced lips — but most of what happens onscreen could reasonably be described as weird for weird’s sake. For example, there’s a slow zoom in on a dog who will later speak to its owner, for no reason other than because it’s an atypical occurrence. There is no real bite, no hook, in a dream sequence involving vampire mafiosos, all sporting widows’ peaks, the only real moment that hints at what the movie could’ve been. 

There are a handful of classic vampire references scattered throughout, but this is the only instance when Reece does something interesting and, crucially, new with the trappings of the genre. There isn’t enough vampire stuff overall to justify Climate of the Hunter’s classification as a film about bloodsuckers, and yet a strong enough case isn’t made for Alma simply being nuts either. Plenty of strange things happen while she’s nowhere to be found — how exactly are those moments being relegated to her subconscious? The score, by Reece’s regular collaborator Nicholas Poss, is predominantly comprised of screeching violins, but these sounds mostly exist to distract viewers from the lack of any foreboding atmosphere. 

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Climate of the Hunter Movie Film

Drug use is prevalent in Climate of the Hunter  but feels unnecessary considering the already strange circumstances that have brought the central trio together (they briefly become a foursome when Alma’s kid shows up). The random instances of swearing feel out of place in what is otherwise a conservative environment populated by buttoned-up types too polite to even make a play for a man who’s evidently amorous, although admittedly the movie’s sole funny moment finds Alma telling Wesley “you look fuckin’ stupid.” It’s not entirely clear what happened between Elizabeth and Alma to make their relationship fraught, or what brought them together in this place they now refuse to leave. 

Elizabeth and Alma’s attraction to Wesley is based on a childhood rivalry, however it feels underdeveloped. Hall is clearly having a great time living out his Vincent Price fantasy, but he struggles with Reece’s lengthy expository monologues, which kick off every time he joins the sisters at the dinner table and don’t really add much of anything to the story. Gaslighting, hypnotism and the use of raw, sexual magnetism to lure unsuspecting, lonely and perhaps even mentally unwell people into dangerous situations crop up and are quickly dispensed with. Climate of the Hunter is eager to cultivate a sense of unease, but Reece isn’t invested in doing anything with it. 

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Climate of the Hunter Movie Film

The performances from the two sisters are solid, although Gilmartin looks distractingly like the bastard child of Julianne Moore and Molly Shannon. The idea that Alma can maybe sense Wesley’s vampiric tendencies is introduced purely as a conduit for yet another disagreement with her sister, as opposed to Reece creating intrigue out of the idea that she might expose him. The final act signals that Climate of the Hunter is waking up a little bit as Alma decides to finally take action, but even these comparatively exciting moments are over before they have truly begun. In the end, the question of whether Wesley actually is a vampire doesn’t seem hugely important. 

Climate of the Hunter exists on its own peculiar wavelength, and there will be those who simply lean back and allow it to carry them along through endless dinner parties, shouting matches and allusions to what is no doubt a more exciting story happening elsewhere (a prequel to Wesley’s previous adventures certainly piques the interest).However, Climate of the Hunter feels like a fitfully dull, purposely confusing head-scratcher that is impressive in its genre-defying nature and commitment to the weirdness of its setup but leaves one feeling as unsatisfied as a vampire who hasn’t had a drop of blood to drink in several nights.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

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