Director: Dutch Marich
Writer: Dutch Marich
Producer: Dutch Marich
Stars: Dani Colleen, Ashley Campbell, Sam Hatley, Donald Michael Smith
A young woman acquires a mysterious stalker after playing an immersive urban exploration smartphone app.
Casey lives the uneventful life of a young single woman struggling to keep her head above quicksand in Hollywood. When not phoning pawnshops to offload her guitar or scrounging for shifts as a stay-at-home CS rep, Casey smokes cigarettes on the stoop and fields complaints from a neighbor about feeding a stray cat.
A nicer neighbor has something other than unkind words for her. Billy suggests that to clear up the cloud of glumness over her head, Casey should try “Hunting,” an interactive app pushing players into the real world on a user-generated scavenger hunt. Casey does, and becomes so immersed that the formerly shy girl is even inspired to create a video blog documenting her increasingly daring urban exploration adventures.
Finally and for once, Casey feels a satisfied sense of accomplishment courtesy of Hunting. Something else the game gives her however, is a silent stalker. When the figure following her in the shadows seemingly starts appearing inside her apartment, Casey realizes the experience she signed up for is not the same as the terrifying one she receives.
Although presented as a slow-rolling thriller, writer/director Dutch Marich’s “Hunting” essentially tells the tale of an average homebody working through a rut of depression. As a solo transplant to Los Angeles myself, finding personal parallels in the portrayal is frighteningly easy. I’ve dated Casey. I’ve met her neighbors. I’ve lived in her building. These are real, relatable people in a drearily depicted, though no less accurate, cul-de-sac of lonely L.A. life and “Hunting” engrosses with its scaled-down study of sadness told through mundane moments.
Only four actors appear onscreen and only one of them has an IMDB credit other than "Hunting." Whether or not these cast members are even professionally trained is as much of a mystery as how much of the dialogue is improvised. Whatever the level of experience and script completeness is, the blend absolutely works to make "Hunting" feel like an entirely organic, spontaneous arc of believable character interaction.
Dani Colleen is fantastic as Casey. If the screenplay gave her more to do than deliberately drown in monotony, she might be outstanding. Colleen has a girl-next-door naturalness in her presence and she moves so comfortably around the camera that status as an acting novice is a nonfactor, perhaps even a boon in making her read as authentic.
With its simple story and simpler setup, “Hunting” is a great icebreaker for a neophyte filmmaker with limited funds looking to dip feet with a boutique project. Breaking out further than that is unlikely however, as “Hunting” has warts like routinely soft focus and the look of a cheap camera roughing its edges. An even greater challenge “Hunting” has in turning heads is that anyone without an inclination to invest sympathy or empathy in poor Casey’s plight has a mostly meatless bone to bite when it comes to suspense.
Innumerable scenes qualify as traditional tropes when it comes to horror movies. Up for illustration here is one in particular that genre film fans have seen countless times. Exact details always vary, but it basically goes like this:
A frightened woman walks slowly and softly down a dark hallway towards a door opened slightly. Music swells subtly as her hand extends gradually outward to grasp the doorknob. Tension tightening, that buildup finally bursts with the climactic scare of a killer lunging from the shadows or the false jump of a cat pouncing from a nearby cupboard.
“Hunting” basically extends that scene to 80 minutes.
As a psychological thriller, “Hunting” is a belated beat to arrive at a single boo. Chills come from reused moments of looking over a shoulder or flinching at the darkness, stretched, pulled, and padded so thin that the movie runs out of room to hide its scarcity of content. When the climactic twist comes out, the scavenger hunt premise reveals itself as a red herring. A side effect is that “Hunting” then shows it was bluffing the whole hand, and would have been a story more effectively told using a third of its length.
Because of relatable personal experiences, I appreciated Dani Colleen’s wonderfully understated performance and connected to the movie’s portrait of bleak isolation. The blunt truth though, is that “Hunting” is too skeletal in substance for broad appeal beyond that.
Review Score: 60