Updated: Jan 5, 2021
Independent films have a certain sense of freedom.
They can pretty much go anywhere they want. As far as their limited budgets can take them. But within those limits, anything goes.
Climate of the Hunter is a good example. It marks the 27th feature film from director Mickey Reece, a critically acclaimed indie auteur from Oklahoma City, OK.
Quoting IMDB, “Reece has averaged at least two films a yar since 2008 with each subsequent work pushing the boundaries of his own established form and unique brand of arthouse cinema.”
His style has been self-described as “people talking in rooms.”
That’s actually pretty accurate.
Climate of the Hunter is a tale of two middle-aged sisters (Alma and Elizabeth), living in a creepy remote resort campsite in a 1970s time warp. They are visited by a charmingly handsome childhood friend (Wesley) who, unbeknownst to them, may or may not be a vampire.
It’s hard to tell; particularly when the film opens with a shot of Alma’s psychiatric medical records revealing that she has some serious issues.
Things might not be what they seem, partially when seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic who has spent some time in a mental institution.
Spinning galaxies of light appear in the sky, dogs talk, and wheelchairs inexplicably fall from the sky like the detached jet engine in Donnie Darko (2001). It's a crazy world.
At one point, a dinner guest inexplicably coughs up a bloody, used feminine hygiene product in full view of his horrified guests. As mentioned, just about anything can happen in a movie like this. No matter how grotesque or disgusting.
But for the most part, Climate of the Hunter is about people talking in rooms.
There is a lot of dialog, ranging from bawdy stories and fart jokes to Edgar Allan Poe’s musings about the limits of the cosmos. All the while, Wesley attempts to charm and seduce the two “wonderfully weird” sisters and entrap them in his evil web.
From a production standpoint, the film is a playful time-trip to a cultural scene 50 years ago-- the costumes, hair styles, and props.
Even more fun, the film’s style emulates the look and feel of the independent 16mm movies shot in that era, with the trademark color and lighting, diffusion and star filter effects and frequent use of zoom lens shots.
This is retro, arthouse filmmaking all the way. It’s campy (no pun intended) and kitschy.
There were a lot of low budget horror films shot in this style back in the day. Too many to name.
We’ve all seen them on late night TV. Most of them cashed in on cheesy blood, sex and violence. Remarkably, and a little disappointingly, these elements are used pretty sparingly in Climate of the Hunter.
It’s a movie that you would expect to go down that trashy, but trashily entertaining road. Sadly, it doesn’t.
There is a lot of talk and a lot of tease. The result is a lost spin-off feature version of the old TV show Dark Shadows.
Lots of set-up. Little pay-off.
Some of the dialog is witty and clever. One of the sisters refers to Wesley as being a little “long in the tooth,” for instance.
There are other humorous references. But not enough for this to legitimately be called a dark comedy.
Instead, it’s a Mickey Reece film with all the elements that define his personal genre.
Those elements include: an homage nightmare sequence right out of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), wardrobe inspired by the late Janis Joplin and a wild, psychedelic song reminiscent of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Graf Orlok, from the silent classic Nosferatu (1922) even makes a brief, awkward cameo appearance.
Climate of the Hunter is as throw-back fun as it is intentionally strange. It’s not a film for everyone.
It’s definitely a film for Mickey Reece’s cult fan club who enjoy his brand of moviemaking.
There are non-English chapter titles and regularly recurring overhead shots of table-top food presentations, each narrated by a detached female voice describing the various offerings, in detail. They seem spliced in for the sake of being oddly intrusive and arty.
Or maybe just whacky.
It’s hard to take this film seriously. But, maybe seriousness wasn’t the point.
It’s a personal journey into some uncharted territory. Granted, it’s not as bizarre a journey as David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), but it is a jaunt into a slightly creepy world with a few shocking surprises.
And it has an ending open for some interpretation and discussion. One that should please Mickey Reece’s cult following.
If you’re in the mood for some campy, retro, indie film fun, Climate of the Hunter just might be your ticket.
It’s somewhere between mainstream independent film and far out movies like Pink Flamingos (1972) or Blue Velvet (1986).
It’s a quirky-fun movie with its own strange vibe that might have been better if it had let its hair down a little, stuck its neck out further and bared its fangs a lot more.
Climate of the Hunter is in theaters now and On Demand and Digital January 12, 2021.