Happy Hunting features Martin Dingle Wall as Warren Novak, a criminal on the run stopping over in a remote border town before he hopes to disappear into Mexico forever. But just when it seems he’s left all his troubles behind, the psychotic locals make Warren one of several targets in their twisted annual hunting game.
RUNNING AND GUNNING AND PURGING, OH MY!
Happy Hunting, from the writing-directing pair of Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson, is two-parts Redneck Running Man, one-part The Purge, and one-part Saw. The movie is mostly centered around an annual event in which the locals cheer on a group of hunters tasked with killing a group of unwilling targets for points and notoriety. And this deadly game is played for two reasons. The first is that it allows the town to vent their frustrations without judgment or punishment each year. And second, it serves to scare everyone–including any surviving targets–into a better life.
And easily the best aspect of the movie is how it how it toys with the notion that this version of “The Most Dangerous Game” actually works. The people in town are depicted as fairly normal, rather than bloodthirsty maniacs. And one of their own, a prominent character in the movie, is a living example of how such a cruel game can change someone for the better, changing him from drunken wife beater to a sober, wholly reformed husband and citizen.
Unfortunately, the movie reduces everyone into a one-dimensional stereotype with a weird little trait and almost zero motivation. And it squanders what little merit it earns with it’s fresh take on worn out material by choosing to dedicate way too much time on Martin Wall’s lifeless joke of a character and his all-over-the-place plight.
NOTHING ELSE MATTERS
Now, it should be made clear that neither I nor anyone else should expect much in the way of high-caliber acting when it comes to what is clearly a movie embracing it’s low-budget, b-film spirit.
And really, aside from Ken Lally as the reformed local man, Steve, the rest of the cast fails to provide a single memorable performance. But even if Martin Wall could manage to be anything but boring anytime he’s on screen, his character–like nearly everyone else’s–simply has little to offer. Which makes it all the more frustrating that so much screen time is dedicated to showing us how much of a mess Warren really is. Because Warren is not only a common criminal, he’s also a grimy, lazy drug dealer and a murderer. He’s also an alcoholic. He’s also, for some reason, trying to sober up cold turkey. And he also maybe might be a father.
And yet, none of that matters. Warren has no arc. The movie has no point. There’s no real depth to its characters or story, but rather weak, shallow attempts at such. Nor is it all that entertaining. It provides little in the way of scares, thrills, or kills. There’s little in the way of camp, melodramatics, or spectacle. None of the targets are sympathetic enough. None of the hunters are dangerous enough. None of the deaths are gross, scary, or exciting.
In fact, the movie goes out of its way to highlight just how incompetent and stupid the whole thing really is. For example: the only person in the movie who comes across as a legitimate threat–a local war veteran and retired sharpshooter–is initially shown to be a perfect shot only to quickly reveal that he can’t hit the broadside of a barn at even close range.
In short, nothing in Happy Hunting is, ironically enough, executed properly.
DON’T BE BORING
A movie like Happy Hunting has to be at least one of two things: a well-crafted, introspective commentary on morals and ethics in matters of life or death…or an over-the-top spectacle that can just barely be called a commentary on the same thing. What it can’t be–what it should never be–is a boring movie that has nothing to say.
There are a number of great ideas and concepts present in Happy Hunting, such as the setting and the teasing of a moral and ethical grey area with a concept that is often the failed domain of mad men and evil governments trying to reign in a frightened, out-of-control populace. There is a great performance to be seen on the part of Ken Lally. His character’s fall and rise and fall hints at what the movie could have been.
Unfortunately, the movie is what it is. And what it is is a bad, boring movie. And when there are a number of similar movies with similar premises and plots that are neither bad nor boring–and, in fact, are superior in just about every conceivable fashion–there’s no point in spending any time with one that has little to no desire to, at the very least, entertain you.
Happy Hunting is a NO CHILL.