Sunday, June 07, 2009

BIFF ’09: Pig Hunt

Northern California can be a dangerous place. There are a lot of things to worry about in those woods, including pot growers, violent hillbillies, freaky hippies, and wild boar. It all turns into a perfect storm for John and his loser buddies in Jim Isaac’s Pig Hunt (trailer here), which screens as part of the twelfth annual Brooklyn International Film Festival.

It has been a longtime since John returned to his backwoods home and it’s not hard to see why he stayed away. Originally conceived as a weekend hunting trip with the guys, his girlfriend Brooks convinces him to let her tag along. Again, it is not hard to see why he agreed. Not only is she beautiful, she can shoot straight and is the only character on the excursion worth talking to.

Arriving at his late uncle’s cabin, they discover it has been defaced with weird, menacing graffiti. Also adding to their anxiety is the sudden arrival of two of John’s former hick friends, who seem to harbor a lingering resentment against him. Still, they seem to have a knack for finding game, so everyone heads out into the woods together. After all, what could go wrong? Besides encountering the legendary Ripper, a three-thousand pound wild pig they were warned about in town, that is.

It is not giving away much to reveal the Ripper turns out to be quite real and very much worthy of his name. Needless to say things go very bad, very fast. Isaac builds the tension quite effectively, leaving clues that there may well be more threats out there than just the killer hog. As is usually the case in horror films, the less the audience actually sees of the Ripper, the scarier he is. Unfortunately, the periodic attempts to draw an analogy between the hunt for the Ripper and the War in Iraq are clumsy, ill-conceived distractions from the gory business at hand.

In general, Pig Hunt’s cast is at least adequate to the genre. However, Tina Huang is a charismatic standout as Brooks. Whether firing off rounds or needling John’s idiot friends, she is just what the doctor ordered for a bloody horror-actioner. She completely outshines the rest of the cast, including the bland Travis Aaron Wade as the characterless John. Also noteworthy is a small but effective cameo by blues mouth-harpist Charlie Musselwhite as the general store owner who issues the fateful warning about the big pig in the woods.

Happily we also get to hear Musselwhite perform the all too brief “Booneville Crossroads.” The balance of Pig Hunt’s soundtrack, largely composed by Les Claypool of Primus (who also appears as Preacher, the head of the redneck clan and a dead-ringer for Richard Petty) and featuring additional percussion by jazz drummer Eric Harland, really brings a down-home vitality to the picture.

For audiences receptive to the exploitation-horror genre, Pig Hunt is an energetic film, with some cool sounds and a really appealing action performance by Huang. It is the sort of blood-splattered picture that would have been a good fit for the late lamented Two Boots Theater. Pig Hunt screens again during the BIFF this Friday (6/12) at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema.