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Fantasia ’20 Review: “CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER” offers a gloriously quirky cinematic feast

Friday, September 4, 2020 | Fantasia International Film Festival, Review

By RACHEL REEVES

Starring Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss and Ben Hall
Directed by Mickey Reece
Written by Mickey Reece and John Selvidge
Divide/Conquer

Prolific underground filmmaker Mickey Reece continues to keep audiences on their toes with his 27th feature film, CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER (which just had its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival). Steeped in ’70s-era sentiment, style and execution, the film is a refreshingly fun and quirky vampire story that may, in all reality, not be a vampire story at all.

At the heart of the film reside Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss), two very different sisters (Alma is an artist and Elizabeth a lawyer). The pair are staying together at their family cabin while anxiously awaiting the arrival of their old friend, a successful writer named Wesley (Ben Hall). They’re both over 40 and currently unattached romantically, and a silent competition for Wesley’s affection simmers between the two. Although still technically married–his wife Genevive has been committed to a mental institution–the worldly, silver-tongued scribe charms both women as they succumb to his stories and devilishly good looks.​

However, the more the sisters begin to learn about Wesley, the more suspicious Alma becomes. Sparked by a visit from Wesley’s son Percy (Sheridan McMichael), Alma’s suspicions deepen after Wesley experiences a surprisingly strong allergic reaction to garlic. Soon, she begins experiencing vivid dreams and picks up behavioral clues that further fuel her belief that Wesley is a true creature of the night. As she gets deeper into her own private investigation, an ill-timed surprise visit from her daughter Rose (Danielle Evon Ploeger) further reveals Wesley’s wandering eye and sinister motivations. Rose also divulges to Elizabeth a few secrets about Alma that call her grasp of reality into question, and her claims of Wesley’s vampiric state become fuzzy to both characters and audience alike.

Intentionally embracing style over substance, CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER is a glorious celebration of throwback cinematic tropes. Soft, warm lighting, excessive star filters and a 4:3 aspect ratio set the tone, while punchy zooms and focused overhead shots create an overall period genre vibe. Further heightened by Nicholas Poss’ funky Italo-disco, avant-garde, jazz-infused score and Kaitlyn Shelby’s hyperstylized production design, every square inch of the film oozes deliberate and beautiful homage.

Yet while the visual and sonic elements are certainly worthy of praise, the film’s true appeal lies in its off-the-wall dialogue, oddball dinner sequences, stunning performances and the unique way it confidently leans into its vaguery. Playing with the dated idea of the “unhinged woman,” it teases with the questions of Alma’s mental state and whether or not Wesley is actually a vampire throughout. Continually questioned and consistently gaslighted by everyone in her immediate circle, Alma sees her concerns fall on deaf ears and she’s forced to take matters into her own hands. And we rally to Alma’s cause, regardless of its validity, due in large part to Gilmartin’s perfectly executed performance.

Wonderfully perplexing and enticingly vague, CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER is a surreal cinematic treat that gleefully walks the fine line between trippy arthouse and bemusement with ease. An unquestionably unique entry in the heavily saturated vampire genre, its greatest trick may lie in the question of whether it’s actually a vampire film at all.