Over the last twelve years, Mickey Reece has established himself as a one-person film industry, pumping out at least two films a year since 2008 on shoestring budgets. He has also developed a reputation for making idiosyncratic, often impenetrable movies. Is his latest more of the same? Not quite.
There are still plenty of idiosyncrasies on display, but this 1970s set vampire thriller is more accessible than most of his work. Well, alleged vampire thriller, as that may or may not be the case. One of the key plot drivers is the question of whether ageing lothario Wesley (Ben Hall) a vampire or not.
Before we get to any vampire business, the film establishes itself as an oddball domestic drama as Wesley returns to his hometown to visit sisters Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss). Both of whom, it is established early on, have intentions to woo Wesley. That is before Alma starts to suspect he is a creature of the night.
There is not a whole lot else going on in terms of plot. But then again, focusing too much on the plot would be missing the point. Instead, this is a film that rests on tone and mood. It is also one dripping in visual style. Much of the look of the movie borrowing from Euro-horrors of the 1970s, particularly the more lush entries like Daughters of Darkness.
The mixture of domestic drama and vampire flick certainly proves to be a strange brew. Imagine something like John Cassavettes meets Jean Rollin. Not that this is the only peculiar element; far from it. There is a whole host of odd moments and details. From the way that Alma refers to her dog as being a ‘philosopher’ to a monotone narration, which announces each meal the characters have (much of the ‘action’ takes place over a series of dinners). It is certainly easy to see why the film is playing in the Underground section of the Fantasia programme. Mainstream it ain’t.
Then again, it is these kinds of details that also make Climate of the Hunter such an oddball delight. Along with this and the look of the film, the key strength is in the acting. Gilmartin, Buss, and Hall all give committedly off-kilter performances and excel in their roles. Gilmartin, in particular, gives an at times heart-breaking performance as we soon realise how fragile and lonely Alma actually is.
Not everything works so well, though. As previously mentioned, the story itself is pretty thin. Also, Wesley’s frequent waffly musings on the cosmos can prove ponderous at times. There is also the issue that while the performances are great, the characters themselves aren’t much to write home about – each falling into a type. Elizabeth is the uptight career woman, Wesley is the silver-tongued playboy, Alma is the ‘crazy’ hippy lady, etc. The last is the most problematic since the ‘hysterical’ woman trope has been done to death in horror, and the narrative relies on this to keep the audience in suspense over Wesley’s possibly vampiric nature.
The whole enterprise continually threatens to tip into full-blown Garth Marenghi territory. For all that, though Climate of the Hunter is never less than watchable and it is hard not to be won over by its bizarro charms, particularly if you are an aficionado of 70s horror.
Available on-demand as part of Fantasia Festival from Thu 20 Aug 2020