Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: John Portanova
Writer: John Portanova
Producer: Matt Medisch, Brent Stiefel, Jeremy Berg, John Portanova
Stars: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Jason Vail, David Saucedo, D’Angelo Midili, Bill Oberst Jr.
A Sasquatch attack tests a father and son’s broken bond when a family hunting trip becomes a fight for survival.
If you’ve seen “Valley of the Sasquatch,” then you’ve also seen “Hunting Grounds,” and vice versa. Not because they both feature similar stories concerning a troubled father and son encountering several Sasquatches in the woods, but because they are literally the same movie.
Somewhere between the film’s 2015 festival circuit marathon and 2017 home video release, it was seemingly decided that while still fine for the UK, “Valley of the Sasquatch” was too on the nose as a name for US audiences. “Valley of the Sasquatch” piques more interest as far as Bigfoot aficionados are concerned, not to mention provides more information about the kind of horror in store. Yet in a weird way, watering down the title to “Hunting Grounds” makes strange sense because it speaks to how interchangeably tame the well-meaning movie is.
The untimely death of Mrs. Crew has hit widower Roger and teenage son Michael hard. Jobless, homeless, and what little money remains reserved for beer, Roger is forced to move with moody Michael into his brother-in-law Will’s shack of a cabin in the Washington woods.
Michael wishes Roger put as much effort into fulfilling the teen’s college dreams as he does into overlooking fundamental flaws in their two-person family. For Roger, priorities like employment and repairing their disused woodland abode can wait. Of more immediate importance is a drunken hunting weekend with Roger’s loudmouth lout of a pain-in-the-neck pal Sergio, and Michael’s level-headed uncle Will.
Michael doesn’t want any part of a party that involves pulling a trigger on an innocent animal. He wants even less to do with the foursome’s forest excursion when a creature comes to camp after killing a logging crew that displaced wildlife nearby. Their forcibly friendly outing is now a fight for survival. And circumstances demand each man prove who he is through willingness to protect each other when lives are on the line.
“Hunting Grounds,” or “Valley of the Sasquatch,” tries complementing its creature carnage with meaningful character conflict. It truly does. The level of inspiration for the writing and acting just isn’t up to that of the story’s emotional ambitions.
“Hunting Grounds” positions itself as a father/son story, yet the teen boy spends more time bonding with his uncle than his dad. Their human element is ultimately unrewarding mostly because it isn’t really resolved by the climax’s conclusion.
Strokes are brushed about what an ignominious jerk Sergio is, how negligent Roger has been, Michael’s perpetual disappointment, and Will’s potential to be the father Michael wishes he had. Few of these notions ever develop their full drama, however. Once Bigfoot bears tooth and claw, which isn’t until almost two-thirds of the runtime is spent, gears switch into a rhythm of attack, take a breath, and repeat. From there, the movie never gets back to whatever it had in mind regarding the group’s collective connections.
The film isn’t bad. It’s merely bland. Serviceably standard performances have no room to improve due to conversationally dull dialogue. Outdoor locations provide decent backgrounds, although flat scene staging can’t pump in additional energy.
Act three doesn’t skimp on Bigfoot’s presence, at least. Perhaps it should have though. Creatures look like distant relations of “Harry and the Hendersons,” except with more mask-like faces. Sasquatch’s capacity to be scary is diminished considerably by a rubbery look that is hard to take seriously.
Giving credit where it is due on the other hand, any small-scale horror film dealing heavily in night setups and exterior settings deserves appreciation when shot competently, as is the case here. Nighttime exteriors take time to light and commitment to be out in the cold. Those facts count for something when considering DTV fright flicks, many of which are too lazy to put up with even minor inconveniences.
Temptation is strong for a first-time feature filmmaker on a shoestring to go the “found footage” route, or to capture something comparatively easy on camera. Writer/director John Portanova shows he is sincere about his effort by taking his shot from beyond the arc. If nothing else, “Hunting Grounds” pushes a low budget to its limits. Given the glut of bigger and better Bigfoot movies it is going up against, standing out in entertainment value is another obstacle entirely.
Review Score: 45