SXSW Film Review – Hunter Gatherer
In Joshua Locy’s Hunter Gatherer (2016), a middle aged man returns home after a three year prison sentence in hopes to turn his life around. What he finds is a world that has left him behind. His mother wants him to get a place of his own, and his former girlfriend is now seeing someone else. But that doesn’t deter our main character. With an upbeat, positive attitude, he does everything he can to win his lost love back.
What I appreciate with Locy’s work here (he wrote and directed) is how he depicts a blue collar society – made up predominately of African Americans – and shows them getting by through hard work and determination. How often do we see characters in these stories fall prey to criminality? Most times, these are good people just doing what they can to make it day by day. Locy injects vibrancy early in his narrative. Yes, the neighborhood we see can swallow a person up if they’re not tough enough. But there’s also plenty of room for soul, heart, and a little bit of fun.
That’s what makes the casting of Andre Royo such a perfect choice. Royo has been working as a character actor for years. I remember him most for his fantastic work as “Bubbles” on the television show The Wire. In Hunter Gatherer, he brings a mix of charm and pathos in the role of Ashley. He plays the character with such optimism, such determination to set his life straight, that we almost forget that he spent time in jail. There are clues that point toward a lack of development as a child. When he returns home his mother holds a welcome back party, complete with a birthday cake (it should be noted that no one attends the party). Ashley decides to enroll in classes, and we realize that he has a third grade reading level. He even memorized the alphabet out of order. But Ashley takes all of those obstacles in stride. In an effort to make quick money and impress his ex girlfriend Linda (Ashley Wilkerson), Ashley hooks up with local kid Jeremy (George Sample III) to transport and dispose of old refrigerators.
Jeremy is the other leading character, and his story is a peculiar one. Jeremy is quiet and reserved. He has a sickly grandfather that he takes care of. He claims to have a disease that affects his breathing. Along with disposing refrigerators with Ashley, Jeremy also participates in medical studies that include attaching large electronic pads to his midsection. We never really get a good handle on Jeremy as a character. He brags about how his grandfather was a genius inventor, even creating a respirator that Jeremy spends time trying to fix. During his free time, Jeremy takes swimming lessons. It’s as though he is made up of all these bits and pieces, but when put together he still remains a mystery.
What is this leading up to? How does a middle aged man and a kid join forces? Maybe there is no rhyme or reason to it. Locy builds their relationship by not really building a relationship at all. There are no clichéd moments where each character shares their deepest, darkest secrets. The bond Ashley and Jeremy share is made through necessity. They’re both survivors, making ends meet the only way they know how. They compliment each other even though they are complete opposites. Even the fact that Andre Royo is an experienced veteran actor and George Sample III is a relative newcomer benefits their characters’ contrasting dynamic.
The first half works the best, as Ashley and Jeremy get on a roll with their refrigerator “business.” The optimism that Ashley exudes bleeds into every part of the plot – it’s an element easy to root for. However, the tone takes a dramatic shift in the second half. All of the positive vibes we get earlier on is washed away as some very dark elements get introduced. Ashley’s mission to impress his ex girlfriend starts out lighthearted but then becomes very serious. He exhibits traits that are delusional, almost dangerously so. This idea is amplified through strange dream sequences, where the editing superimposes shots of the city with the faces of our main characters. It’s a tonal shift that doesn’t quite work, especially with how lively and energetic the plot began. This all ends with a bizarre and incredibly depressing ending that came out of left field. The turn is so different in terms of execution – blasting any sense of reality that we may have had – that it felt like a rug was being pulled from under us.
When Hunter Gatherer strips down to tell the story of two characters working together was when I was most invested. The random flights of fancy and the grim ending was simply not as convincing. But I am glad to have seen this, if only to witness Andre Royo once again prove his incredible range as an actor. Hopefully the man will soon get the recognition he so rightly deserves.