The Movie Waffler SXSW 2024 Review - HUNTING DAZE | The Movie Waffler


Hunting Daze review
After being left stranded, a sex worker spends an increasingly fraught weekend with a group of hunters.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Annick Blanc

Starring: Nahéma Ricci, Bruno Marcil, Frédéric Millaire-Zouvi, Marc Beaupré, Alexandre Landry, Maxime Genois, Noubi Ndiaye

While I hold Deliverance in high regard, it always bugged me that John Boorman's movie and its clones portrayed rural folk in such a negative light. In such movies, sophisticated urbanites travel to the countryside and come up against mouth-breathing murderous yokels. In reality, when people from the city travel to the country they're usually the ones who end up causing trouble, rather than the locals, as anyone in a small town known for hosting bachelor and hen parties will tell you.

In writer/director Annick Blanc's feature debut Hunting Daze we get a welcome reverse riff on this concept. Here a bunch of men travel to the woods of rural Quebec for a bachelor party, but rather than being harassed by any slack-jawed, tobacco chewing locals, all their troubles are of their own making.

Hunting Daze review

After performing for the men, sex worker Nina (Nahéma Ricci) finds herself stranded following an argument with her pimp. With no means of getting back to Montreal on her own, she makes her way back to her clients' cabin and pleads to stay the weekend with them. After putting it to a vote, the men decide to let Nina stay, but on one condition…

If you think you know where this is headed, you're probably off the mark. If you're a fan of Francophone cinema the idea of a woman stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of French-speaking hunters will likely recall such films as Serge Leroy's The Track and Coralie Fargeat's Revenge, in which female victims of sexual assault find themselves in a Most Dangerous Game scenario as they try to subsequently evade their male predators.

The "condition" Nina must adhere to isn't anything sexual (while it's never made clear, we surmise Nina has already performed such duties for them in a professional capacity). Rather she must become "one of the boys" and join in with their hunting and revelry. After passing an initiation which involves holding an egg and spoon in her mouth while shooting a target, Nina is embraced by the men as one of their own. Far from the sleazy intentions you might expect from such a group of men, they treat her in an affectionate and respectful manner. Nina becomes both a little sister and a brother to the men, and she seems to find liberation in hanging out with these blokes and engaging in the sort of activities women are usually discouraged from. She bags herself a deer and knocks back as many cans of beer as her new male buddies, and the tough exterior she exhibited initially drops as she relaxes in her new surrounds.

Hunting Daze review

Things take a turn with the arrival of Doudos (Noubi Ndiaye), an African man who can't speak a word of French they find wandering in the woods. Just as we feared for a lone woman among a group of men, we instantly grow apprehensive for a black man in this group of white men. But once again Blanc upends our expectations as the men take Doudos under the wing, just as they did with Nina.

So is this just a movie about men and women and blacks and whites all getting along swimmingly then? Absolutely not. It's impossible to go into any detail without spoiling the film's twists, but things begin to get messy, partly initiated by drugs, alcohol and carelessness. Remember how as a teenager your parents warned you about parties and how a combination of drugs, alcohol and testosterone make for a dangerous mix? You laughed off their fears until you went to parties and realised they were right, that when you put a group of young men together and fill them with booze and pills something bad is probably going to occur. Well that's what happens here. None of the men are painted as outright villains, but their obnoxious frat boy ways leads somewhat inevitably to trouble.

It's at this point that the initial fears we held for Nina and Doudos return, as we suspect when the shit hits the fan this group of white bros will band together, that fraternité will ultimately trump egalité. The men model their group after a pack of wolves, and Hunting Daze suggests that we're all animals when it comes down to it, that no amount of human empathy can distance us from our inherited instinct to survive. The film's final act thus becomes a question of survival, with both the hunters and Nina calling on their instincts for self-preservation.

Hunting Daze has its roots in the bleakness of 1970s cinema. Many of those post Deliverance films played on the depressing idea that the world will always be divided, that people will always be in conflict with others, be it men vs women, urban vs rural or black vs white. In recent years any optimism that this may not have to be the case has been eroded by a world that seems as divided as ever. Blanc's film suggests that survival depends on avoiding the "other", that women should keep away from men, and blacks from whites if they want to avoid trouble.

Hunting Daze review

This point might be more effective were it not negated by the one-note portrayal of a black man as a literal "other." In trying to make a point about the threat of white men, Blanc falls back on a tired stereotype and views Doudos solely through the eyes of the white characters. He's an exoticised figure, one with a mystical aura and the best drugs in town.

Blanc's debut may trip over itself in its desperation to make a depressing but not entirely untruthful point, but it's largely a gripping affair. It's rare to find yourself watching a movie and having no idea where the narrative is about to turn, but that's the case here as Blanc consistently plays with our expectations and prejudices. It's beautifully shot by cinematographer Vincent Gonneville, with some dazzling dream sequences and a homoerotic montage of the men blowing marijuana smoke into each other's mouths (in another deviation from the norm it's suggested that some of these bros might be fluid with their sexuality). It's all anchored however by a captivating turn from Ricci, whose performance sees her character transform from whore to kid sister to brother and ultimately to a maternal figure as she caresses one of the men Pieta-like following one of the film's dark turns. Ricci draws us in with her expressive blue eyes and keeps us guessing as to whether Nina is genuinely comfortable around these men or simply putting on an act in service of survival. It's a question we might ask of all women.

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