Hunting Daze is a surreal visualisation of toxic masculinity: SXSW Film & TV Festival Review

Men behaving badly is at the core of Annick Blanc‘s Hunting Daze, a surreal visualisation of toxic masculinity that refuses to ever pigeonhole itself into one category.  It’s horrific without ever devoting itself entirely to that genre.  It’s blackly funny, though never satirical.  And it’s always engaging, even if the extreme manner in which Blanc frames certain scenes leave you breathless and uncomfortable.

As much as Blanc’s film is fuelled by masculine energy, it’s Nina (Nahéma Ricci, an absolute force) that drives the narrative, a sex worker who is near-stranded in the Canadian countryside following a bachelor’s party weekend.  Left with no choice but to turn to her former clients for help, they take a vote on whether or not she can stay with them, with the only stipulation on agreeance boiling down to that she must live like them for the duration – one of the “wolves”, as they call it.

This means drinking and hunting in excess, and, to her surprise, Nina adjusts quite easily to the environment; she’s just “one of the boys.”  Given this dynamic, and the fact that the film constantly layers itself with a suggestive sinisterness, we’re unsurprised that the mood eerily shifts with the arrival of an uninvited guest.  This person’s presence, along with the heft of firearms and substances, result in a series of violent actions, forcing Nina to decide just how dedicated to this pack she truly is.

What may truly surprise viewers is that Hunting Daze, despite its mentality (and Midnighter category placement at this year’s SXSW – predominantly a section dedicated solely to “horror” films), isn’t a particularly graphic film in terms of on-screen violence, yet it manages to unnerve further and feel infinitely more explicit due to Blanc and cinematographer Vincent Gonneville‘s decision to paint so much of the action in close-ups we can’t turn away from.  The temperament of these men is vile and ugly, and the film’s visual style very much serves as a representation of Nina’s growing disgust for them.

An experience that many will reject, and even those that find a haunting beauty in Blanc’s work may still be uncertain to say they “enjoy” the film, Hunting Daze stays with you regardless.  It’s an aggressive piece of work that roots itself in a truth whilst simultaneously separating itself with a surreal haze.  It reinvents the “bachelor party” movie, shatters any stereotypes around sex work, and comes together as a bold piece of commentary on gendered power dynamics.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Hunting Daze is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival, running between March 8th and 16th, 2024.  For more information on this year’s festival, head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.