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Happy Hunting is one of the better horror movies of 2017. This Most Dangerous Game knock off takes the premise of hunting humans and puts a redneck, Mexican border setting to it and lets loose with a serious amount of blood and guts. The film reminded me a little of 2016’s brilliant horror-thriller Green Room which used a backwoods milieu to similar effect. That film is far better than Happy Hunting but that this film brings that one to mind says something about how good Happy Hunting really is.
Happy Hunting stars Martin Dingle Wall as Warren, a drunk drifter who gets invited to Mexico to pick up what may or may not be his child. The mother of the child has died and claims the child belongs to Warren but the only way for him to know for sure is to drive to Mexico. Broke and drunk, Warren needs cash so he concocts the worst batch of meth he could cook and tries to sell it to some meth-heads nearby. Needless to say, this doesn’t go well.
After narrowly escaping the meth-heads, leaving bodies in his wake, Warren finds himself in a small Texas border town that looks on the brink of death. Holing up in a motel with the meth-heads money, Warren, naturally stays drunk while he waits to be told where in Mexico he needs to go. Unfortunately, the town hunt is just getting underway and the hunters do not take kindly to visitors. While Warren briefly seeks solace at an AA meeting he meets Steve (Ken Lally) who wants to be his sponsor.
Steve, like everyone else in town, has a secret, he’s a hunter and seeing Warren new in town, he’s chosen him as the prize for he and his wife Cheryl (Sherry Leigh) to hunt down. After drugging Warren they drag him to the town square where he and four other men are set to go running off into the desert to run for their lives from an assortment of small town badasses who’ve become quite proficient at hunting human beings over the years.
Happy Hunting was directed by the team of Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson, the son of Academy Award winning director Mel Gibson. While you might think that Dad Gibson might be an influence on his son the real influence appears to be Blue Ruin and Green Room auteur Jeremy Saulnier whose gritty stylized violence and blood soaked aesthetic appears to have been copied wholesale. If not Saulnier’s style, the makers of Happy Hunting did steal the poster of Blue Ruin, see for yourself here and here.
So you can see that Blue Ruin and Green Room were at the very least influential on Happy Hunting. You can call it stealing but Happy Hunting is, at the very least, quite good thievery. It is in fact, it's a movie a Jeremy Saulnier could be proud to have influenced. The film has strong pacing, interesting characters and a few moments of genuinely thrilling scene-setting, especially a blood-soaked shootout at night in a faraway cabin in the middle of the desert.
If I have any issues with Happy Hunting it’s little things like stacking the odds a little too heavily against Warren. Warren suffers numerous life-threatening injuries while going without food and water for a remarkable length of time and lacking sleep. I would have preferred at least one less debilitating injury for our hero so I could buy into the notion that he might survive but that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for the film. Dingle-Wall does sell his super-human abilities rather well and he’s just charismatic enough for you to root for him.
I have been a little hard on Happy Hunting but I meant it when I said that it is one of the better horror movies of the year. It has a terrific premise, a strong pace, a couple of genuinely thrilling scares, and solid, Hateable villains. Granted, the horror genre isn’t exactly a genre that’s hard to rise to the top of but with that said, Happy Hunting is better than most of the horror films that have received a theatrical release in 2017 and if you’re someone who loves the genre, it’s right up your alley.
Happy Hunting will be in limited release beginning September 22nd.