It's nearly twenty minutes into Zack Wilcox's Hunting Lands before we hear Frank Olsen (Marshall Cook, Division III: Football's Finest) mutter a single word, yet his entire reclusive life has already begun to change.
Frank is a reclusive veteran with a deep yearning to escape from the complexities of the world. Unfortunately for Frank, that complex world is practically dumped at his snow-covered footsteps when he spies from a distance a man in a pick-up truck dumping a large package of sorts in the isolated snowy hills where Frank has made his home. When Frank discovers the "package" is a discarded, beaten woman (Keyna Reynolds, Moving Parts) fighting for her life, he's drawn back into the world's complexities and must make a decision whether to continue to turn his back on society or to confront the world that he loathes.
You could be forgiven for expecting Hunting Lands to be some seriously badass action flick. However, heading into Hunting Lands with such an expectation would be a mistake. Instead, Hunting Lands serves up much, much more.
Despite his lack of spoken language, it's abundantly clear early on in Hunting Lands that there's a lot more going on with Frank Olsen and it's refreshing, but more than a little unusual, that Wilcox gives us an abundant amount of time to sync into Frank's rhythm before the more charged parts of the story begin to unfold. Filmed largely in the icy isolation of Atlanta, Michigan, Hunting Lands is as much about the psychological underpinnings its story as it is the physical actions that ultimately follow.
Hunting Lands had its world premiere at Cinequest VR & Film Festival and picked up Best Feature Film and Best Screenply at Idyllwild, both strong indicators that Hunting Lands is a unique, entertaining beast of a film.
As Frank Olsen, Marshall Cook is quietly mesmerizing. Cook slowly simmers, building his performance from an introverted work of wonder into a masterful tour-de-force by film's end. In some ways rather simple and straightforward, Hunting Lands builds in emotional impact parallel to the remarkable development of Cook's Olsen. Cook, in turn, is aided greatly by Edwin Pendleton Stevens's intimate, almost invasive lensing that reminded me of how the PTSD-riddled mind feels as it begins to move into sensory overload. Garron Chang's original score also deserves major kudos.
To give too much of what unfolds in Hunting Lands away would be unjust. It's a film that should be experienced, though it should be experienced with a little bit of awareness that you may not get exactly what you're expecting. You'll just get more if you're willing to surrender to the film's unusual rhythms and inward complexities as they begin to turn outward. With an ensemble cast behind Cook that is uniformly strong, Hunting Lands isn't the kind of film that blows you away and then leaves you alone ... it's the kind of film that digs a burrow inside your brain, crawls inside your psyche' and creates a psychological itch that can't easily be scratched. It's the kind of film that starts off quietly, then plays ping-pong with your emotions once you've gotten to know these characters and you understand, really understand, what's going on.
Hunting Lands is an official selection of the upcoming Newport Beach Film Festival with screenings on 4/30 and 5/3 at The Lot in Fashion Island. For ticket information, click here.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic