Climate Of The Hunter is the latest feature from the incredibly prolific Mickey Reece, who has described his directorial style as “people talking in rooms”. That certainly applies to Climate Of The Hunter, in the sense that the film’s action is centered entirely around just a few characters, staying in an adjacent set of rural cabins. However, what would otherwise be a well-acted chamber drama is pushed into much more memorable territory with an aesthetically near perfect homage to the weird world of low budget genre cinema. While it has been making the rounds on the festival circuit, the combination of arthouse leanings and Gothic camp seems a particularly strong fit for Fantasia Fest.
Middle aged sisters Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss), eagerly await the arrival of their old friend Wesley (John Hall). After almost 20 years of living as an expatriate overseas, he has agreed to join them at their vacation property for some catching up, and a relaxing retreat to ease him back into life in the United States.
It’s pretty clear the sisters don’t have a huge lot in common aside from a last name. Alma is all loose curls and bohemian peasant blouses, blithely at ease with just the quiet of the woods and long weed-fueled walks with her dog. Elizabeth is so rigid she’s nearly brittle, a sixty hour a week striver in huge shouldered separates and a coif sprayed so stiff it could double as a crash helmet.
Family vacations tend to put people right back into the roles they had in their youth, and its clear that the return of Wesley has sparked more than a few old resentments, and definitely a resurgence of two lingering crushes. The passive aggressive sniping begins almost immediately, as they wait at the window like overeager school children for their guest to arrive.
Enter Wesley (Ben Hall) in a sleek red muscle car. He’s fond of crushed velvet jackets, cravats, and old fashioned pipes. At their first dinner together, he quotes poetry as he enters, and dazzles the sisters with tales of his travels and ever so suave kisses on the hand. Immediately, he plies them both with compliments and expensive wine, the cover of a Gothic romance novel come to life.
Scene set, Climate Of The Hunter unfurls more secrets with each increasingly elaborate mid century monstrosity of a dinner, each course of seven layer sandwich cake and baked potato soup announced formally in voiceover. Each gathering devolves further from friendly territory, destroying all of those carefully curated first impressions, the tensions rising as the women compete for Wesley’s time and affection.
Elizabeth resents Alma for her free spirit, and the fact that she got to experience marriage and motherhood despite having multiple mental illnesses (revealed to the audience in the first few frames via typewritten hospital letter). Alma clearly finds Elizabeth’s constant measuring of success by monetary means an invalidation of her lifestyle and personal agency, especially in regards to mental health treatment.
Not everyone is so charmed by Wesley, either. Friend and neighbor B.J. (Jacob Ryan Snovel) declares him “full of darkness” during afternoon smoke sessions with Alma, expressing concern regarding his odd wanderings late at night. Wesley’s son Percy (Sheridan McMichael) drops in for a brief visit, and can barely conceal his disdain. Percy is furious his father had his mother involuntarily committed, while still living off her money. Percy embarrasses his father by revealing mutual infidelity in Wesley’s marriage, then adds injury to insult by dressing a salad with garlic to provoke a terrible allergic reaction.
Alma eventually joins the ranks of the disenchanted, given Wesley’s open leering at (and eventual seduction of) her daughter when she arrives at the cabin. Alma’s been plagued by dark dreams and odd visions ever since Wesley arrived. He sleeps all day in thick layers of velvet, the shades drawn to keep the light out. During his violent allergic reaction to garlic, he coughed up a bloody tampon. He’s certainly a self interested lech, but is he also a vampire? Or is Alma’s mind finally falling apart completely?
Climate Of The Hunter offers no easy answers its central mystery, and takes its time drawing you into its somewhat theatrical world, reminiscent of spooky soap opera Dark Shadows and a stage play in equal measure. All three leads give excellent performances, with Ben Hall’s Wesley a scene stealer in a film stacked with them, who makes a character written as a smug, aging Lothario magnetic enough to seem potentially supernatural.
The kitschy wardrobe and prop styling, slightly faded color palette and visible grain recall the vampire film boom in the early 70s, as do the sweeping music cues. Sharp eyed viewers will also find brief (but still delightful) winks at the toad-fueled psychedelic visions of Psychomania, and a glittering golden palette swap of one of Delphine Seyrig’s looks from Daughters Of Darkness.
Climate Of The Hunter‘s melodrama on mescaline tone and languid pacing might not be to everyone’s taste, but universally strong acting and a carefully curated visual world make it hard to forget once you’ve viewed it.
For those already fans of the Hammer/Amicus brand of off kilter vampire gothic and the artier side of vintage drive in fare, The Climate Of The Hunter‘s slow burn spook show will pack a much sharper bite.
Wicked Rating – 7.5/10
Director: Mickey Reece
Writer(s): Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
Stars: Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, Ben Hall
Release date: September 19, 2019
Studio/Production Company: Betmar-Heliand Productions, Divide/Conquer, Perm Machine Productions
Run Time: 90 minutes