Movie review: Hunting Grounds
Being the unofficial Grave Plot Podcast Sasquatch expert, it was expected that Taylor would kick this film over to me for review. Hunting Grounds is a 2015 Sasquatch horror film written and directed John Portanova. A fun part of this film is that it happened to be shot in the woods in my backyard in the mountains around Easton and Rosyln, WA. That’s where the fun ends.
Spoilers incoming… you’ve been warned.
Bauman (Bill Oberst, Jr.) is our first on-screen character. He looks lost (just like this film) in the forests of the PNW (that’s “Pacific North West”). He makes camp, holds a gold nugget over the fire (K, he’s obviously a greedy gold hunter), and we get a roar in the forest. In a camp that’s maybe 50 yards away from him, there is a dead hunter sitting next to the fire. Not sure how neither men saw one another that close in the woods. Bauman is dispatched by the ‘squatch in short order.
We are then introduced to our leads, father and son, Roger and Michael Crew. We also get a cast iron skillet upside the head of exposition too. Immediately we know that Roger (Jason Vail) and Mikey (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) are poor (broke, really), Roger is an alcoholic, and they are moving into a cabin built by his father 50 years ago because it is free. Also the matriarch of the Crew household is dead. They beat this into your head repeatedly. They spruce up the cabin after discovering it had been broken into and thrashed. It only took a few minutes to do because it was a table that was flipped over. Michael discovers some fur hanging from a nail that is sticking out the wall a good six inches. He sniffs the fur, and is repulsed.
Roger’s friends Sergio (David Saucedo) and Will Marx (D’Angelo Midili) show up for the weekend. Sergio treats Michael like the kid raped and murdered his wife, sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother in front of him. Portanova sets up the Sergio character to be disliked throughout the film by having the Dick Dial turned up to 11 and it just increases. No human being acts this way and even if there was some tension between father and son, the father would have left Sergio’s body in a ravine somewhere in the woods. Sergio even makes tasteless jokes about Roger’s wife and parents being dead. Sergio is just set up to be a catalyst (really a crutch or more like a wheelchair) to draw more drama between the father and son dynamic. I really hated the Sergio character and not because it’s the reaction that the writer/director wanted me to have either. The character was poorly written, so over the top that Bond villains were screaming from their graves to tone it down. At no point should Portanova thought anything like this was a good idea.
I did like the Will Marx character though. It was a good bridge of sympathy between Roger and Michael. Midili did an excellent job with the character. Joris-Payrafitte also did a great job with the shit sandwich handed to him.
Roger and Sergio both get hammered, verbally abuse Michael some more, then decide they want to go hunting in the morning. Jesus, Sergio just ups the visceral content with every line he delivers. I can’t state that enough. Sergio and Roger try to get Michael to kill a deer, and he misses intentionally which brings more wrath upon him. The kid would be better off being homeless in Juarez, it wouldn’t be as mentally taxing. Sergio is out pissing in some waist high ferns when the ‘squatch appears (not really, hidden by the waist high ferns) again. It scares Sergio who runs off and falls down a hill, where he sees blood soaked bacon in the trees. I wish that were a joke. Cle Elum (a town five minutes Roslyn where this was shot) has a high-end butcher shop and you can get scraps of beef, buffalo, pork, etc. that would have been much better for gore FX. Blood covered bacon is lazy and a joke.
So the gang thinks they are being stalked by a bear and not an eight to nine foot sasquatch that can somehow hide in waist ferns. They do the obvious thing here and decide to camp in the woods for the night where this dialogue exchange happens between Roger and Michael:
“Where’s the tent?”
“We didn’t bring it.”
“What’s going to keep the animals out!?”
Sorry, Mikey, but a thin piece of nylon is not going to stand between you and a bear. Go watch Grizzly Man. After some Sasquatch horror stories, they fall asleep. Michael wakes up with a ‘squatch standing over the top of him. The ‘squatch is about 5’7” with a size nineteen size shoe. Sigh. Roger is kidnapped and Sergio runs off with the guns, leaving his supposed best friend for dead. They reach the cabin, where Will and Sergio argue about going out to find Roger. Will punches Sergio, so Sergio does the only logical thing in this situation, he stabs Will twice, killing him. Michael then knocks out Sergio with the butt of a rifle in the most emotionless way possible.
Bauman then shows up. How the hell is he alive!? Oh, it turns out they completely rip off the Albert Ostman story. No modifications, no changes, they just completely retell the Ostman story verbatim with Bauman. Lazy writing again. The Ostman story is great and one of the first mainstream Sasquatch stories. Portanova could have done some great things updating the story, but nope, let’s take the Wikipedia article and put it into film script form.
I was checked out before, but now at this point I’m really holding on by a thread here. If I didn’t promise Taylor of Terror a review of this film I would have turned it off fifteen minutes ago. I’m glad I didn’t though, I would have missed the funniest part.
More chaos ensues, Roger returns with the line, “They pulled me into the woods. They beat me.” He’s in a self-made splint and selling the leg injury like Roman Reigns. Bauman is killed. Sergio awakens, takes a couple more shots at Michael, and we get a great exchange of Roger setting up Sergio to cover Michael as he runs outside to get some paper-thin wood to board up the windows. While Sergio is on a dresser “blocking” the window (covered about the lower three inches if that), Roger shoots Sergio in the leg. Sergio falls out to have his head crushed under the foot of a ‘squatch. Roger then delivers a line along the lines of, “Should have been nicer to my son.” Roger should shoot himself at this point for allowing Sergio to be that mean to his son for years! Roger then wrestles a rifle away from a Sasquatch, over powering it somehow, then chopping off the ‘squatch’s arm.
My head hurts.
Roger and Michael decide they’ll take the truck that’s ten feet from the front door and escape instead of defending the family cabin. K. Roger says he can’t make it to the truck because of his leg, despite running around on it the last twenty minutes and nothing happening to it all since he returned. He kills a ‘squatch with the splint, by shoving it into the stump of the arm. The third and final ‘squatch checks on the second to last ‘squatch, stands up all enraged, ready to kill Roger and Michael as they make it to the truck.
“We’re leaving and we’re not coming back.” Yells Michael at the ‘squatch. The ‘squatch stops, nods in acknowledgement, and lets them go. Jesus Christ! The ‘squatch knows English and because they are never going to come back they can go?
This movie was atrocious on so many levels. Two characters were unbearable throughout and only made that way to lead to a touching moment later in the film, one character was a total rip off from a story from the 20’s, one was killed for no reason by one of the annoying characters, and Michael was just a piss soaked piñata throughout.
My rating: 2 stars out of 10.