Studio: Wildseed Studios
Director: Drew Casson
Writer: Drew Casson, Jesse Cleverly, Sarah Perugia
Producer: Miles Bullough, Jesse Cleverly
Stars: Drew Casson, Georgia Bradley, Sam Carter, Tom Scarlett, Nigel Morgan, Colin Stark, Kitty Speed
A small group of friends discovers that a rash of bizarre behavior in their town may be related to an alien invasion.
Whenever a marketing bullet for a film boasts some novelty factoid like, “shot entirely on an iPhone” or, “first movie filmed on location at (fill in the blank),” it might as well be a kryptonite rock telling you to stay as far away as possible. Because if irrelevant blurbs like these are more interesting than the context of the movie itself, there usually isn’t any better way to sell the movie.
Another example is anytime a filmmaker’s youth is publicized as worthy of a mention. One project recently published a press release touting that a 13-year-old is at the helm and all it does is completely eliminate any interest in the film. Sorry, I’m not normally one to dismiss anything out of hand for an arguably trivial reason, but I have a hard time believing someone not yet through puberty knows how to direct seasoned actors, much less make a professional grade motion picture.
Having said the above, knowing that “Hungerford” creator Drew Casson was only 19-years-old at the time of filming shouldn’t be a factor in influencing an evaluation of his film’s execution or its entertainment value. Except the fact of the matter is it actually makes his movie come off as that much more impressive when you consider how much he accomplished at such an early stage in his career.
“Hungerford” tells the story of Cowen, a U.K. youth recording a week-in-the-life for a university assignment. That week consists of parties, pranks, and putting about with pals until an ominous cloud appears in the sky outside. Cowen and his friends think little of it until area locals and family members start banging their heads bloody and attacking without provocation. Eventually, Cowan traces the violent behavior to incisions on the back of some necks. And those incisions house an unidentified parasite heralding the greater threat that is to come.
Part “Cloverfield” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” mixed with “The Crazies” and “Night of the Living Dead,” “Hungerford” is also “found footage.” Tune out immediately if you are someone ready to jump from a bridge at the thought of watching yet another shaky-cam horror film filled with first-person frights. If you’re still with me, I’ll assume a basic tolerance, maybe even appreciation, for the format’s conventions, tropes, and limitations, even though I would be remiss in not addressing how “Hungerford” fails in one key regard.
Before delving into what “Hungerford” does well, there is an elephant that needs to be led from the room first. It is generally the most common “found footage” complaint, and “Hungerford” is one of the worst offenders. Slap your forehead every time you want to ask, “why are they still filming this,” and you will give yourself a concussion before the second act.
For the most part, the format fits. But among some of the more noticeable moments where the movie doesn’t try hard enough to be believable as “found footage:”
- There is a scene where Cowen attempts to make amends with his sweetheart after several months of estrangement. It is almost absurd to think that any guy trying to put his best foot forward while wooing the presumed love of his life would jam a camera between their faces for a relationship-hinging conversation.
- A fight with one of the afflicted is conveniently framed perfectly for a dropped camera. When that person dies, the friends are reluctant to call the police for fear that no one would believe their self-defense claim. Even though the entire incident is of course caught on tape for anyone with eyes to plainly see.
- Afterwards, the group collectively disposes of the body while discussing the need to cover up the murder they just committed. All the while, the camera keeps rolling. Because who wouldn’t want video proof of a criminal conspiracy captured on tape for posterity?
- Cowen hands off “we film everything” duties to his mate Kip at one point. It is understood that Cowen has a passion for filmmaking and getting good marks on his class assignment, never mind the alien threat looming overhead. But what does Kip care about keeping action in frame and the camera on at all times?
Drew Casson probably wore so many hats as actor/director/co-writer/one-man-band that not as much consideration was given to details like the above. He likely thought everything was good enough to keep the story moving sensibly, and he was right, although it does tarnish the illusion of the conceit somewhat. Some of the above can be solved simply by inventing reasons to set the camera in a different place or to alter the POV. But “Hungerford” concentrates on achieving its larger objectives.
As Cowen, Drew Casson shows as much talent in front of the lens as he does behind it. Casson’s performance is at its best during the subdued, more casual moments. When the terror turns up to eleven, he has a tendency to lay it on thick with wide eyes and heavy panting. This is a drawback to directing one’s self in a motion picture. The ability is there. But like the rougher edges of the script, Casson is in occasional need of an outside observer to tune him into a better-suited pitch for the high drama scenes.
The main trio has terrific chemistry as friends. Usually, a young filmmaker gathers available pals for a project like this and it reads exactly as they played it: a group of friends futzing around for fun over a few weekends. Here, the young cast puts genuine commitment into their roles and that is what sells the coming of age aspect of “Hungerford” as an engaging human drama.
“Hungerford” occasionally trips over typical zombie apocalypse tropes, e.g. having to exclaim, “it’s not him anymore!” when someone refuses to believe an infected family member has turned. A few other details are also hard to swallow. For instance, aerosol deodorant is what kills the aliens? They couldn’t come up with something not so silly?
Alien cocoons look like they were made with Halloween Store spider-webbing, but decent digital FX make up for props that read as a little too phony. The same goes for solid sound design where thuds and thumps help push physical action over a hump of staginess. It is as though for every practical shortcoming, Casson always has something to place at the other end to keep the scales balanced.
At its heart, “Hungerford” is an ambitious project that looks incredibly good for its scope. The story’s framing is not as buttoned up as it could be, but for a sci-fi spectacle on a shoestring, the execution is impressive.
Review Score: 70