MOVIE REVIEW: Hunter Gatherer
52nd Chicago International Film Festival U.S. Indies selection
“HUNTER GATHERER”-- 4 STARS
The micro-budgeted indie film “Hunter Gatherer” is the directorial debut of art director Josh Locy. The filmmaker has cut his teeth creating the visual palettes of independent fare such as an art director on David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” and Peter Sattler’s “Camp X-Ray.” His film, led by a charismatic performance from Andre Royo, shows the egotistical plight of a recently released con trying to reinsert himself in his old South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.
Ashley Douglas is just out of jail and squatting at his mother’s house. The man hasn’t learned any new respect in his prison time. He still thinks he’s hot shit and a guy who can walk right back into his place of dominance and relevance. Ashley is oblivious that people have bettered themselves away from him, especially his coveted ex-girlfriend Linda (Ashley Wilkerson). She has moved on to another man after Ashley made no attempts to write and keep in touch with her letters to prison.
Ashley attempts odds and ends work, mostly scams surrounding appliance disposals, around town. He visits his old haunts and tip-toes around secretly getting his GED. Ashley picks up a floozy new girl (Kellee Stewart) and an impressionable underling of sorts in the form of Jeremy Pittman (George Sample III of “Cronies”). He is trying to earn money to repair the antiquated ventilator machinery that is barely keeping his grandfather alive. Jeremy has been subjecting himself like a lab rat to paid medical product experiments that are pushing his own body too far. Nonetheless, both are looking for easy shortcuts to make a quick buck.
“Hunter Gatherer” centers itself as a spotlight breakthrough for Andre Royo as a lead actor. Known best for “The Wire,” Locy’s film shows what he can down when given a layered character to develop. His scam artist Ashley is a strong-willed man looking to better and prove himself privately while publicly spouting unsubstantiated talk about positivity that thinly masks his true pessimisms. Royo earned himself Best Actor honors from the 2016 SXSW Film Festival for “Hunter Gatherer,” deservedly so, as did Locy for Best Narrative Feature.
Beyond Royo, the film portrays a South Central L.A. that feels lived in and free of gaudy stereotypes. We see a blue collar community more than some wild gangland portrait painted by outside opinions. Royo and the ensemble appreciably never dip to gross caricature. To provide flavor beyond the struggling socioeconomic setting, the eye of an art director behind the camera really comes through.
Playful layering and camera work from Jon Aguirresarobe combines with subtle edits from Adam Robinson move the “Hunter Gatherer” in nearly existential directions. Skipping the cliche hip-hop, Locy employs a bouncy urban jazz soundscape from Keegan DeWitt (“I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “Listen Up Philip”) to further characterize the setting and tone. These are deft artistic choices from Josh Locey in a hidden gem built of character-driven motivations. Keep an eye on these names moving forward.
LESSON #1: POSITIVITY ALONE CANNOT ERASE NEGATIVE FEELINGS-- Ashley puts on a front of sayings, quips, and judgments that ask for good feelings to match the positivity he’s selling. Rather, he needs to embrace the saying “it’s all about the doing, not the saying.” Action goes further than talk.
LESSON #2: THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAYS OF SELF-IMPROVEMENT-- Ashley’s positivity comes off as warped principles, but there are positive steps like his education and too-little-too-late reflection. Tangential to Lesson #1, he betrays those right strides with sliding back into his schemes and lies. Soon, the falsities will ruin the attempted forward initiative.
LESSON #3: THE SMALL AND BIG DREAMS THAT EITHER SUSTAIN US OR END US-- Within the whole community, everyone you meet in “Hunter Gatherer” chases tiers of both attainable and unattainable goals. In Ashley’s cause, the past holds back his future. Privately, the people here want betterment, but put themselves in situations that carry varying degrees of mental, emotional, and physical risks.