Thanks to the trust and kindness of various filmmakers I am often in the lucky position of having an early access to view their work. The chance to do so usually comes with any number of veiled threats - often including ritual disembowelment with a rusty Pizza cutter from the roof of the highest building in the city if I was to share their work before the actual release. I suppose that's fair enough, thankfully I'm an honest kind of soul so it hasn't yet had to come to that.
This article is a case in point (the early viewing, not the ritual disembowelment with a rusty Pizza cutter) with the piece actually dating back to March 2015. Writer and director, John Portanova had let me have a sneaky preview of his new Sasquatch feature well before it was due for release - which was nice for two reasons. Firstly that even though i'm something of a real-life bigfoot cynic, I'm a sucker for a decent Sasquatch movie, I really am. Secondly, because the film also boasts an appearance from a friend of mine (no, he really is - you can ask him!), horror icon Bill Oberst Jr.
The film in question was originally titled Valley of the Sasquatch and it's basically a thrilling Bigfoot romp with a host of genuine chills. In September 2016 it was announced that U.S. distribution for the film will come from Uncork’d Entertainment and the film’s title will be changed to Hunting Grounds. It should be noted though that the film will retain its original title and poster art in foreign territories.
A couple of days ago I received this email from Uncork'd stating the following;
"Uncork’d Entertainment has set award-winning creature feature HUNTING GROUNDS for a Feb 7 release.
Winner Best Sci-Fi Horror Film at the Toronto Independent Film Festival 2015, writer-director John Portanova’s acclaimed film sees a fractured family forced to go up against an angry clan of Bigfoot.
Festival audiences and horror critics have gone crazy for the story of a father and son, forced to move to an old cabin in the woods after a devastating tragedy, who unearth a tribe of Sasquatch.
Written and directed by John Portanova and produced by horror label The October People, Hunting Grounds stars Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Jason Vail, David Saucedo, D'Angelo Midili, and Emmy winner Bill Oberst Jr (Criminal Minds).
HUNTING GROUNDS available On Demand from Feb 7."
So in order to celebrate this upcoming release I thought it would be fitting to reproduce the original review, with a couple of adjustments; Firstly correcting the inevitable spelling and grammar mistakes; secondly, having changed the title of the film to reflect it's U.S distribution.
So here you are with the 5D review of the wonderful 'Hunting Grounds'.
"After losing their home following a devastating tragedy, a father and son are forced to move to an old family cabin. Neither reacts well to being thrown into this new world. The son's attempts to relate to his father are complicated when two old friends arrive for a weekend of hunting.
This trip into the forest will unearth not only buried feelings of guilt and betrayal, but also a tribe of Sasquatch that are determined to protect their land."
Well slap me in the face with a wet fish and call me Josephine. In the 2 1/2 years that I've been scribbling my self-indulgent ramblings here on this blog I had never actually written a piece on a Bigfoot type creature. That is, until this past week when two films about that very chap came along in quick succession. The first of them was the Australian version of the mythical creature, The Yowie, which featured in my previous blog article but one for the review of the marvellous Throwback (2015) which has recently found its way into DVD & Bluray here in the UK.
A few days after posting the Throwback piece I received a messaged from a familiar name to 5D readers (well, reader), that of John Portanova. Though if indeed this is actually the first ever blog article that you've read from me then just where the hell have you been??!!??!! Having said that, it's not too late to run away now, you know. I won't think any less of you. In any case, if you haven't read any of my quite remarkable scribblings you probably aren't aware of the two previous films that I've championed from John and the other main players in the Seattle-based production company, The October People. Both The Invoking and The Device were both excellent examples of complex characterisation plus an intelligently patient narrative - the former being a tale of supernatural terror, the second, a story of Alien abduction.
The message that I received from John saw him reaching out because his new film "Hunting Grounds", starring Jason Vail and Bill Oberst Jr, (another old friend of the 5D.....whether he likes it or not!) recently had its world premiere at the Nevermore Film Festival. In addition to that, the next screening is at the Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival in May.
Now, not only was this Johns very first film as director, he was producer on The Invoking & The Device, but I know for a fact that he is also something of a Sasquatch obsessive so consequently the subject matter of the film is very close to his heart. If you add to that mix the inclusion of the fabulous Bill Oberst Jr. as part of an excellent cast (more of which later) then what option did I actually have but to accept? If all that wasn't enough, Johns cunning ploy of using the words "I've enjoyed the writing you've done on previous films I've been involved with, so I would love to read your opinions on Sasquatch" at the beginning of his request, well.........Sneaky bastard - he knows I'm a pushover with flattery.
However, what John may not know is that while I may be something of a sucker (steady on) for a good old 'lost mythical monster who attacks overconfident vulnerable lost souls in the land that time forgot' type of adventure story genre - and if it's not a proper genre description, well it blooming well should be.
The famous Roger Patterson footage
However, if truth be told, there isn't one solitary molecule within my physical make-up that actually believes in the reality of such creatures. That non-belief may seem something of a controversial statement to make to some people I've met through writing this blog........cough......, sorry, John.....cough......because there are many otherwise normal people out there that genuinely believe in this stuff. And who is to say that I'm right? Because judging from the seemingly endless books one online sources of sightings and statements, I may be outnumbered in my beliefs.
The fact is that I simply do not believe in Bigfoot/Sasquatch, the Yeti. Yowie or indeed anything of the like. Nor do I believe that we've already been visited by extra-terrestrials or intrepid time travellers. However, I do love stories about such things, especially well made and thoughtful stories. And so here I am.
Once again, The October People don't disappoint. For a start we have their now trademark appreciation of measured character development and respectful treatment of the subject matter. To begin with there is the nicely intelligent story of complex and fraught relationship between father and son. As the father, Roger (Jason Vail) confidently conveys the feelings of a man who has not only seen his wife's life end but also is witnessing his own existence wither away into unfulfilled regret. His son, Michael played by Miles Joris-Peyraffitte provides a nice performance as the boy who sees his opportunities of an academic future being replaced by the prospect of experiencing the same banal existence of his father.
Once the pair have relocated to the dilapidated cabin in the woods we are introduced to the bullying and slightly unhinged friend Sergio (excellently played by David Saucedo). Added to the group of misfits is Will, Rogers' more successful brother who is played by the excellent D’Angelo Midili (The stellar performance from The Invoking). If that wasn't enough there are an inspirational couple of sub-plots featuring Bill Oberst Jr. as Bauman who experiences his own particular brand of excruciating encounters with the Sasquatch tribe and you have a veritable gluttony of textured characterisation.
I really don't want to become overly sycophantic but Bill Oberst Jr's performance alone is pretty much worth the cost of seeing this film. It's been my pleasure to get to know ever so slightly this man who throws himself so much into a part that he often has little recollection of the experience. His role as Bauman is a tour de force.
Bill perfecting his best Sasquatch killing look.
So, the plan for our little group of social misfits is for them to go on a nice relaxing venture into the wilds for a weekend of hunting and drinking. What could possibly go wrong? Well, erm, plenty as it turns out. Because don't worry, you adrenaline horror freaks, proceedings get more than a little exciting in the third act as the plot quickly moves into a by the seat of your pants 'Assault in Precinct 13 with Sasquatch' scenario.
Hunting Grounds is the respectful and sympathetic treatment of Bigfoot-lore. This may seem strange thing to say coming from a confirmed Bigfoot cynic such as myself but that having my philosophy shouldn't mean that you don't treat the subject matter in a proper and respectful way. This considered approach in the film shouldn't really come as any surprise given the fact that John Poronova is a confirmed cryptozoologist and his inherent Sasquatch passions as such could have resulted in a story that lacked the required menace and horror in an effort to provide a level of authenticity. Thankfully, the horror comes at an extremely satisfying level. I don't regard myself in any way an expert in Saquatch history, but if any of the stories told as conversation pieces in the film have any basis in history then I may have to do some further research of my own.
Night time is the best time to catch the Sasquatch
The result in this movie is to provide overall an authentic and eerie Bigfoot. There is no convoluted CGI here so yes while we do have a man-in-a-suit the lighting & filming provide for the most part a convincing monster. I say 'for the most part' because there are a couple of occasions where the Sasquatch effect is less than convincing, but not enough to detract overall.
The only other negative gripe I would have is that D'Angelo Midili's character seemed somewhat underused. Midili is his usual excellent self but the part itself seems slightly underwritten to my eyes. Once again however, but a small negative.
What we have with Hunting Grounds is clearly something of a labour of love for its maker. Contained within are more than enough thrills, chills and blood all wrapped up in an intelligent narrative. The acting is of a good standard, the story feels fresh and original whilst the action set pieces are simply terrific. I swear that the final hold-out in the cabin will have even the most hardened Sasquatch cynic on the edge of their seat!
More information on the company that is The October People can be found at www.theoctoberpeople.net
The Facebook page for Hunting Grounds can be found RIGHT HERE
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