Sisters Alma and Elizabeth meetup at their childhood cabin for a quick getaway. Their individual neurosis induces the incessant minor league friction between them but never causing any real strain until an old friend, returning from abroad, arrives at his neighboring cabin alone. With his wife suddenly committed to a mental institute, the well cultured and practically single Wesley finds himself in the company of the desirous Alma and Elizabeth every night for dinner as they vie for his attention and affection. When Alma crosses paths with Wesley’s strange and curious vibes, they compound upon her baseline suspicion of Wesley possibly being a vampire. Elizabeth finds herself the victor of Wesley’s adoring warmth, leaving Alma to ramp up her scrutiny into their longtime acquaintance before her sister falls victim to his deadly charm.
Arthouse meets grindhouse in this Mickey Reece written and directed mystery thriller “Climate of the Hunter.” Co-written alongside frequent collaborating screenwriter John Selvidge, the 2019 take on subtle vampiric ambiguity is punctured, tapped, and drained from the same blood rich veins as Robert Bierman’s “Vampire’s Kiss,” starring Nicholas Cage, and George Romero’s “Martin,” but instead of a protagonist believing in the transference into a bloodsucking creature of the night, “Climate of the Hunter” steps back furthering by approaching with a more elusive and Lynchian-like 3rd party perspective as the story focuses prominently the sisters’ thoughts and actions while Wesley does what Wesley does without self-doubt or obvious distinction. Shot during the winter months of the diffusely populated woodland area of Welling, Oklahoma, “Climate of the Hunter” is the sole released presentation of Mikey Bill Films and the more seasoned VisionChaos Productions (“The Field Guide to Evil”) under executive producers Uwe R. Feuersenger and Sasha Drews in collaboration with production companies of Adam Hendricks and Greg Gilreath’s Divide/Conquer and Jacob Snovel’s Perm Machine Productions.
Diving into his best performance as an enigmatic rake with unpronounced intentions is “Minari” actor Ben Hall, who recently costarred as a crises of faith priest in Mickey Reece’s latest release, the comedy-horror drama, “Agnes.” As the sophisticated wordsmith neighbor, Wesley commands every ounce of oxygen all in thanks to Hall’s elegant pacing of Wesley’s uttered mannerisms and inflections. Hall is joined by fellow “Agnes” costar Mary Buss as the pining Elizabeth. Elizabeth practically resents Alma’s seemingly historical persistent hold over Wesley’s affections and Buss bitterness, whether because of Wesley or because of Alma’s uncharacteristic behavior as of late, oozes into the stagnant folds of their relationship. If you haven’t figured it out by now, “Climate of the Hunter” has an Oklahoma-centric and Mickey Reece’s staple go-to cast, which brings us to the other sister Alma played by Ginger Gilmartin who fits into that aforementioned niche category. Alma is running from something that goes essentially unsaid that leads her to hide out in the family cabin and Gilmartin, as best as she can, shepherd’s that motivation without the better part of context. Alma’s also dresses like a crazy cat lady, except she owns a dog, and so reading Alma’s state can be taxing to nail down in an arthouse film where nailing down anything in arthouse cinema is inherently taxing in itself. The small cast rounds out intermittently with smaller roles that build upon Wesley’s vague nature beginning with a local friend to the sisters named BJ Beavers (producer Jacob Ryan Snovel). Witnessing Wesley’s strange behavior but oblivious from his own strangeness, BJ becomes a confidant and a collaborator with Alma in revealing Wesley as a vampire. Sheridan McMichael grows resentful toward his father as Wesley’s spiteful son Percy, Danielle Evon Ploeger seeks incompliancy from her mother Alma as her daughter Rose, and, in the more curious role, is Laurie Cummings (“It Lives Inside,” “Army of Frankensteins”) as Wesley mentally incapacitated wife who somehow manages to lose her wheelchair as it drops from the sky. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it!
Having watched “Agnes” before diving into “Climate of the Hunter,” I mentally prepared myself for a breathy, long-winded, talking head film. That readied mindset 100% gave me more clarity into Mickey Reece’s shadow narrative. “Climate of the Hunter” is an uncharacteristic slow burn for the idiosyncratic grindhouse veneer. With a 4:3 aspect ratio and a color reduction into a warm hue palette that glows, Reece insists on a design that usually offers loads of cheap thrills in action, sleaze, and gore, but the director’s story is toned down, subtle, and very much ear candy as opposed to a rush of visual adrenaline. Instead, lucrative character building fizzes with tension as elements of the past and present unravel who’s who and what’s what before the climatic finale that suggests nothing was what it seemed to be. Though prepped for profound exposition, the dialogue can still be boggling with a composition of Wesley’s personal anecdotes and philosophical quips and quotes. As stated, Ben Hall is amazingly poised in this film, the unflinching star, rolling easily with Wesley’s gift of gab, persuasive magnetism, and maintaining an oblivious eye to an undercurrent of potential classical madness in Alma. Between her recreational use of drugs and an ugly divorce, Alma has retreated into herself as well as her isolating cabin and when the spotlight isn’t on her, is her perception of Wesley really fantastical or is there actually something broken within her. Reece explores a related theme of loneliness around the table with each principle character and how differently being lonely is digested and secreted through the pores of desperation. Once aspect of Reece’s film that will puzzle viewers, and did puzzle me, is the narrated introduction of the food whenever there is a tabled conversation. Since there already Portuguese titled chapters segmenting the story, a bit of a harp back to Wesley’s travels abroad, announcing what the character are dinning on seemed virtually unnecessary other than the idea that food brings people together in which it then fits the narrative of loneliness.
“Climate of the Hunter” is quintessential Mickey Reece melodrama tinged with droplets of horror and subtle dark comedy. Dark Star Pictures releases the film onto region free, dual layer Blu-ray home video in full 1080p High Definition. Reece and director of photography Samuel Calvin aim for a vintage but not superannuated look for “Climate of the Hunter,” in which follows suit with the story set circa 1970s, with a 4:3 image on a pillarbox 16X9 display, relying also heavily on a softer lens to produce a dreamlike and luminescent effect but not overdoing it. The release comes with two audio options – an English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and, if one wants to fully immerse themselves in the era, a stereo 2.0. Dialogue is crisp and clean as it is refined as expected. Levels are balanced, range and depth are acceptable, but with this sort of wordy production, switching between the 5.1 and the 2.0 only discern subtle differences. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. The not rated, 82-minute-long film has special features that include another full-length Mickey Reece entitled “Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart” as well as a short film “Belle Ile,” deleted scenes, production designer Kaitlyn Shelby’s preparations of the food presented in the film Recipes from the Kitchen of Alma Summers, and production stills and behind-the-scenes gallery. “Climate of the Hunter” deserves at least a once over and, in my opinion, a second viewing to become fully submersed in Mickey Reece’s dialogue rich and nebulous style.