Film Review: Hunting Grounds

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 22/01/17. 

3-stars1

Bafflingly retitled from the far superior (and much more sensical) Valley of the Sasquatch, Hunting Grounds is yet another micro-budget creature-feature that’s found itself a comfortable home on DVD, following a slew of rather successful festival screenings all over the States. It’s nothing particularly new or even remotely groundbreaking, but does offer up a surprisingly watchable 90 minutes, which is more than can be said for 90% of its fellow bargain bin time-wasters.

Obviously from a technical standpoint, there’s not a lot here. The acting is about as wooden as it comes, camerawork is steady but occasionally too dark, and the sasquatch in question do come off looking a little too much like rejected primates from the background of a 60s Planet of the Apes spin-off. Where Hunting Grounds really starts to excel from the usual micro-budget crowd though, is in the neatness of its plotting, and oddly enough, its practical approach to filmmaking.

Director Portanova is certainly no Sam Raimi, but at times here there are tiny glimmers of what the original Evil Dead once was; a cheap, nasty B-movie with crummy effects but a whole lot of heart. Sure the main bigfoot in question seems to stumble around mostly like he’s in a prequel to the classic family fave Harry and the Hendersons, but at least he’s an actual physical force within the storytelling, sneaking through the backgrounds of shots and once in focus, tearing the occasional human limb from limb in gloriously gory fashion.

There’s no schlocky computer effects here, and although the story itself is fairly basic, there’s no reason for it to be anything but. Portanova knows what he’s working with and very rarely over-stretches, instead focussing his energy where it matters: the script.

Yes, dialogue-wise this is no masterpiece, but from a structural point-of-view Hunting Grounds works phenomenally. We’re left in suspense of the creature just long enough and treated to just enough backstory on both sides of the hero/villain divide to always keep things interesting. No one outstays their welcome, no one character is any stupider than any other, and most importantly, and this seems like an obvious one but you’d be surprised: it’s never, ever boring. If someone’s not being torn apart, someone’s about to be torn apart, and that’s really just about all you can ask for in a monster movie of this scale and budget.

From a tonal perspective, things could use a bit of a tune-up though. It’s very obvious from even the very first line that Hunting Grounds has TV-movie/bargain bin written all over it. It’s a movie about renegade sasquatch, and yet for the most part it takes itself monumentally seriously. A smattering of extra gore or the odd injection of campiness would’ve worked a treat; but as it stands Portanova’s film seems instead hell-bent on having precisely zero fun with its bonkers set-up.

On the whole it’s easy to see why Hunting Grounds has found success so far on the indie horror circuit; as a no-budget debut there’s a lot to like, and the standard fundamentals of good horror are certainly in here somewhere. Give director Portanova a bit more money and some half-decent costumes and he might even make something a bit more fun along the way, but until then his first effort stands as an entirely worthwhile watch for cheapo monster movie fans.

Hunting Grounds is out on DVD in the UK now. 

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