A solitary, bloodied old man, fleeing across the desert flats who suddenly stops, resigned to his fate.
A rifle shot, punched through his right eye, finishes him off.
“Happy Hunting” is a thriller built around such spare, fraught images, under-played scenes set in the trailers, beat-up SUVs and half-ruined houses of the Great Rural Emptying Out of America.
riter-directors Joe Dietsch, Louie Gibson conjure up a savagely minimalist scenario, horror set in the grim, dry and reactionary American West of xenophobic gun nuts, half-derelict houses, a dust-caked convenience store, roadhouse and motel — a dead end decorated with only the odd burst or arterial spray.
Warren gets a call, and we learn everything we need to from half-sentences overhearing one side of a phone conversation.
“Habla Ingles? English? Yeah…I knew her…it’s been…Shit. How did she die?”
And “You sure it’s mine?”
Warren, played by Aussie actor Martin Dingle Wall, is a low-life and low-volume drug dealer, a drunk with the shakes. That doesn’t help when he’s trying to hustle a couple of rednecks.
A few bloody moments later, he’s on the run, bodies left in his wake, AR-15 rounds zipping by his head.
Where to run to, way out there in the wastelands of the West? To the border, with only a stop at “last gas” Bedford Flats in his way.
Warren experiences a waking nightmare of horror, a not-quite-recovering alcoholic staggering towards his destiny, interrupted by this desert hole where “everything is fair game,” a town “founded by the Bedford Corporation, a hunting town.”
“Stayin’, or passin’ through?” Everybody wants to know. Even at the helpful AA meeting chances upon. “Stayin’ for the Festival?”
What’s that? Turns out, there’s a touch of “The Purge” to this late night “festival” frolic. “Remember where we came from,” the sheriff (Gary Sturm) lectures. “We are a town of hunters, and even though the great herds may be gone…”
Well, man is still “the most dangerous game.”
Gun culture, survival of the well-armed and murderous, an NRA wet dream plays out in this hellhole where these in-bred Confederate flag-wavers can’t admit why “the big game died out.” No, you shot it all. Not that the further-drying salt flats give any hope that climate change will allow wildlife to come back.
Now they’re hunting their socially undesirable neighbors, the drunk junkie stranger and anybody else no one would miss.
“It’s just once a year…brings the community together. It’s not like an everyday thing.”
And they’re keeping score and capturing it on an old school camcorder.
It’s a sadistic film of elaborate traps and clumsy ones, lapses in logic and nothing anyone should spend more than a few seconds overthinking.
And for all its righteous, satiric rage, it tends to unravel in the last act.
But Wall makes a riveting anti-hero, sort of a dark side of Luke Wilson, stumbling forth, suffering, hallucinating with feeling, fighting back and meting out rough justice.
“Most Dangerous Game” — men hunting men — has proven one of the most durable plots in the cinema. Ice-T did one, with Gary Busey.
Even Andy Griffith had a go at a version of it, a TV movie of a Robb White novel that stole O.Henry’s concept.
I can’t say this is one of the best, too grim and gory. But it does get a down and dirty job done.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, drug abuse
Cast: Martin Dingle Wall, Kenny Wormald, Connor Williams, Ken Lally
Credits: Written and directed by Joe Dietsch, Louie Gibson. A Waterstone/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:30