Writer and director Zack Wilcox takes a curious path with his film Hunting Lands which definitely is not a horror film, and barely a thriller, rather a dark drama, without many creepy overtones, assisted by Josh Amato for story concepts. However, the story still provides some intrigue especially when working with a minuscule budget and subjecting the viewers, more to silent movie as it sets the tone by more visuals than words.
The opening shots, present a hunter, tracking its prey through the peaceful snow-covered forest, with close angles of him readying his rifle, taking aim, a single shot echoing in the air, and one deer falling dead. This sequence shows him, Frank Olsen (Marshall Cook), taking only what he needs, as he field dresses the buck, all in one piece. Upon his travel back to his cabin, living a quiet simplistic life, he spots an individual (Joe Raffa) dumping a large awkward bag/tarp in the middle of woods, staying quiet overseeing only, he witnesses the strange occurrence. As the driver vanishes, he stashes his prize and pique to investigate further to what the discarded bag holds discovering a horrendous injured, unconscious woman (Keyna Reynolds) inside, clearly the victim of abuse from a monster (likely a coward inward), he carries her to his cabin to aid her. It’s from here the story changes into a weird series of events, ignoring to inform authorities, Frank clearly knows the abuser and the victim, Maggie, decides to uphold an oath of his (learning he’s former military) to defend the innocent and a mission plan goes into effect. While intriguing camera angles present on the screen, no dialogue is exchanged or even spoken for approximately 23-minutes, resulting is less suspense or even growing tension, more in deep sighs for viewers. A dreadful amount of time spent driving around a small town while Frank, follows his intended target, at some point to this an advance version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), I disagree, while the movie does show voyeurism wrapped around a mystery, complete with evolving characters and lures the viewers into becoming part of scene, Hunting Lands doesn’t show enough The audience is left to discover things from a distance and in silence, needing to learn about Raffa’s character Lance Bennett, an impulsive raging adulterer with lowest traits, still unclear of Frank’s overall intentions. The final act, clearly telegraphed to the casual viewer, although the film attempts to become meaningful, it squandered most of that without the Maggie character’s involvement in any manner. Just as she’s silently abused, discarded, the film’s storyline ignores her completely.
The pacing feels off, likely due to a constricting story with visuals only, and providing minimalist dialogue exchanges for a majority of the film, leaving the audience to enjoy various images. In fact, the tagline for the movie leaves confusion, as it states, “These woods just are”. Just are what, it gives no reference, no adjectives, no insight. Are they fascinating, dangerous, silent? If it stated ‘These Woods Speaks Volumes’ or ‘These Woods Silently Speak’ it would go further to intrigue the viewer. As many like to point a Hitchcockian connection, one of the film’s original taglines ‘In deadly danger…because they saw too much!’ the potential viewer who knows nothing of the film and realize the characters find themselves in mortal danger for witnessing something. That gets attention!
Sadly, Hunting Lands, doesn’t blow away the audience with a revenge theme, nor a mystery, just a dark drama, concerning a friend avenging injustice. Although the story, tries to hint PTSD, it never quite clearly links Frank’s self-imposed isolationism, to events that led him to withdraw from society, only to choose a violent reentry, resulting in a predictable conclusion of the film.
IMDb Rating: 8.8/10 (from 9-votes as of May 24, 2018)
Baron’s Rating: 5.0/10