SXSW 2024: HUNTING DAZE is an Unsettling Trip Into the Woods

From it’s opening scene Hunting Daze establishes and maintains a deeply unsettling tone for its 80 minute runtime. Right from the jump the film poses two of cinema’s most tried and true questions: Has anything good ever happened to people spending extended time in the woods? Has anything good ever happened at a bachelor party? Seasoned movie viewers already know the answer to those questions, but for Nina (Nahéma Ricci), well, she’s gonna learn today. 

The movie starts with Nina, an exotic dancer, having a knockdown, drag-out fight with her manager/security guy and having to find another way home. The hitch is that she’s stuck in the Canadian wilderness and her only option is linking back up with the bachelor party she just left. They let her stay as long as she agrees to party as hard as they do, which leads to a litany of ominous moments. Drinking, drugging, hunting, philosophizing… everything this group does is tinged with danger. 

More than anything, Hunting Daze is a success of tone. This is the first feature by Annick Blanc, and it’s an impressive debut. She previously won a Best Short award at Fantastic Fest, so she clearly has a strong handle on genre. Nowhere is her talent on display more than when the film goes for surreal moments. Blanc displays a patience that feels rare among people in their debut feature. 

Ricci is a magnetic performer and carries Hunting Daze through its twists and turns. She gets a handful of standout moments, but I think the best comes in an early scene when she’s learning to call deer and looking for her first kill. She’s great and keeps the movie together whenever it threatens to go sideways. 

And you already know things will rapidly go askance the more time we spend in the woods. That includes when a stranger appears and sets the group on a new trajectory. Hunting Daze is a movie designed to keep viewers off-balance and it largely succeeds. It’s even more impressive when the plot goes in a few predictable places and Blanc is still able to conjure up surprises. Annick makes a strong impression and left me excited for whatever she conjures up for her next film.

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