A mean little mash-up of “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Purge,” the bloody thriller “Happy Hunting” initially comes across as entertainingly simplistic, before gradually revealing its bigger picture. Writer-director team Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson (making their feature debut) inject a dose of acerbic contemporary political perspective into their low-budget saga of people hunting people.
Martin Dingle Wall stars as drug-dealing drunk Warren, who’s making one last effort at redemption by swindling his fellow criminals, getting clean, and moving to Mexico to find his long-lost daughter. But Warren makes the mistake of stopping off in Bedford Flats, a dried-up desert town that holds an annual human-hunting competition in order to cleanse the community of “undesirables.”
After way too much setup, “Happy Hunting” kicks into gear once the townsfolk begin their hunt. The score shifts from a dreary drone to something more rousing — akin to a classic western — as the antihero scrambles across a barren landscape, pursued by both self-righteous locals and nightmarish manifestations of his own past mistakes.
More than a few times, the film feels choppy, sloppy or paltry. But Wall gives a sympathetic performance as a man facing his final stand. And even at its pulpiest, “Happy Hunting” has a point to make — about how in modern society we often use the pretense of morality to justify base savagery.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: AMC Orange 30