Hear me out: every musical genre has a vampire film to match it. Bela Lugosi’s OG Dracula pairs with something classical, Schumacher’s The Lost Boys with glam rock, and Joe Begos’s brilliant Bliss with some acid-laced EDM. That’s not to say that these movies are literally scored with this music throughout, just that their tone, pacing, and style reflect those genres. However, for all the pairings you can create, it is admittedly hard to name vampire films that match the funky, melodramatic, indulgent style of psychedelic soul. Or rather, it was hard, before Climate of the Hunter.
Cult filmmaker Mickey Reece’s entry into this year’s Fantasia Fest tells the story of Alma and Elizabeth, competitive sisters who are as different as night and day. When an old friend, Wesley, announces he’s returning to their home from traveling, the sisters invite him to a cabin they co-own and begin a cold war for his affections. However, this Wesley is not the same man they knew, but a newly-transformed creature of darkness. As Wesley‘s vampiric attributes (and weird family dramas) start to come to light, Alma and Elizabeth begin to question what they know about him, about each other, and about the nature of their reality.
Appropriately, the first thing that stands out about this funky fang fest is its music. Where most big-budget Hollywood projects choose obvious music for a scene (brassy staccato for a funny scene, bass-heavy thumping in an action scene), this movie adds dimension by pairing its scenes with music that doesn’t seem to match. For example, a completely innocent dinner scene in the beginning of the movie introduces a trembling, suspenseful melody behind it. Suddenly, we’re examining every word and action the characters are making, expecting something to get scary very quickly. And when things do get scary, the film continues to subvert expectations. Instead of the high-pitched, quick-paced score of your average scary movie, the music that accompanies those scenes makes the horror in Climate of the Hunter downright cosmic.
“[…] Climate of the Hunter will keep you guessing as to what you’re feeling… and how that feeling can be so damn groovy.”
Adding to the film’s funkiness are the powerfully weird cast of characters who get only weirder. Like the cast of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, the characters start the film with emotionless, almost fake dialogue. But as the movie progresses, each character ‘s dialogue takes on a poetic quality to match their personality. Deviously charming and intelligent Wesley (Ben Hall) speaks in rambling, philosophical stories. Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) drifts into airy, ethereal monologues, which Elizabeth (Mary Buss) challenges with her curt, manicured observations. Though this movie is so much more, it really could get away with just being a series of dinner scenes, so fascinating are the main characters to watch. And then there’s Otis, Alma‘s very small, cone-wearing dog. I won’t spoil too much, but I will say that if you watch Climate of the Hunter and are not absolutely in love with Otis by the end, you probably score pretty high on the psychopath test.
But where Climate of the Hunter really earns its psychedelic soul is in its dramatic, hallucinogenic, and absolutely hypnotic imagery, which you could break into two categories. The first, which covers most of the movie, is a retro style of filming that gives off a soap-opera feel, not unlike Twin Peaks. The second, which covers several effective dream sequences, is an effects-heavy arthouse style of filming, not unlike, well, Twin Peaks: The Return. Combining these two styles adds a layer of mystery to the movie, making us question whether what we’re seeing is literal or a metaphor. But more than that, it does what psychedelic soul does best; elicits emotions that are easy to feel but difficult to identify. The best you’ll be able to do is notice emotions that shouldn’t belong in the scenes where you find them, from the existential terror of Wesley telling a fart joke to the deadpan hilarity of his true vampiric form revealed. Still, for the most part, Climate of the Hunter will keep you guessing as to what you’re feeling… and how that feeling can be so damn groovy.
Every so often, I’ll see a familiar and annoying sentiment on the horror corner of social media. That is, that vampires have gotten boring. That they’ve been played out, that there’s nothing left in that coffin of ideas. Mickey Reece and the rest of the Climate of the Hunter team prove that sentiment to be absolutely wrong. Of course there will always be familiar elements to a vampire movie: the need for blood, the immortality, the sexuality, etc. But those aren’t the point of vampire films, they’re just the ingredients to make them; similar to the same seven notes that make up all music. All it takes to make something different, something new and relevant, is the right composer.
Climate of the Hunter is just one of the incredible line-up of films Fantasia Fest 2020 has in store, and Nightmare on Film Street will be covering them all! Make sure to join us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram so you don’t miss a single review, not to mention all the talent interviews we’ve got planned. For all the Fantasia coverage you could possibly want, plus all the best horror discussion you can find online, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.