Hunting Lands (2018)
Hunting Lands (2018)

Genre: Drama and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: April 7th, 2018 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Zack Wilcox Actors: Marshall Cook, Joe Raffa, Keyna Reynolds, Kaleb Rittenhouse, Brooke Mulkins, Nicole Cinaglia

 


 

W

hile out hunting, former soldier and reclusive loner Frank Olsen (Marshall Cook) encounters an unexpected sight: a man (Joe Raffa) dumping a large bag in the middle of the woods. Upon investigating further, he discovers a badly injured, unconscious woman (Keyna Reynolds) inside, whom he takes back to his cabin to tend to her wounds. Determining that official channels won’t reap apt fairness, Frank considers taking the law into his own hands, and sets about tracking down the woman’s assailant. But when he finds the offender, the mountain man must make a choice that will drastically affect the lives of everyone involved in the crime.

The opening shots feature a character hefting an axe, prepping a rifle, and tracking a target through the snow. There’s something immediately engaging about this solitary hunter, surrounded by an eerie peacefulness as he steadies his weapon and takes aim at a buck. Is the scrutinization on his tools of death some sort of foreshadowing? And when he field dresses the deer, is this gruesome yet fastidious act yet another harbinger of things to come?

It’s a simplistic enough introduction, though augmented by numerous, unusual camera angles, which study the scenery and observe the incredible solitude of the icy woodlands of Atlanta, Michigan. There’s also no dialogue until 23 minutes into the film; when Frank finally speaks, his voice is curiously deafening. The setup could have been for just about any kind of movie, but his discovery of a body wrapped in tarp suggests a mystery/thriller. Rather than fully embracing the potential of this finding and the sleuthing that could have been conducted to catch the perpetrator, “Hunting Lands” wanders down a different path. It’s actually not a mystery at all – Frank knows the culprit as well as the victim.

The audience is made aware of nearly all of the necessary information through visuals and actions, as the dialogue remains virtually nonexistent for the rest of the running time. It’s a minimalist approach, which is both effective and refreshing; music by Garron Chang complements this style quite nicely, keeping the notes light and unintrusive, save for when he wants to build anticipation. Not focused on solving a crime, writer/director Zack Wilcox is instead concerned with character development, motives, and perspectives. Vigilantism and voyeurism are at the story’s heart, teasing viewers with confrontations that provoke the antagonist; a grave injustice has occurred, and an avenger is needed. It’s briefly philosophical in its justification of retribution, but the finale packs a wallop, edging in psychological thrills alongside the baser tendencies of a PTSD-riddled veteran resorting to self-imposed judgment.

While the plot is uncluttered and the conclusion is mesmerizing, there’s a slowness to the film that general audiences likely won’t embrace. Lengthy scenes of surveillance (which take on a nearly Hitchcockian aura, like that of “Vertigo” and “Rear Window”), from driving around town to remaining parked on the side of the road, eat up countless minutes; even smoking a cigarette seems to take an inordinate amount of time. The pacing is clearly off, showing many establishment scenes that are entirely extraneous, though the deliberately unhurried vibe gives the resolutions a bit more bite. Fortunately, the cinematography is first-rate for an independent production, staying amusing even when transfixed on nothing much at all. “Hunting Lands” is one of the slowest of all slow-burn pictures, but the character designs, the flawed moralities, and the skewed judicature are original and consistently entertaining.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10