Three films into his career as a horror auteur, I feel supremely confident in saying that you just never know what the fuck you’re gonna get from director Jim Isaac. His debut feature, Jason X, was an absolute blast — probably the very best of the entire Friday The 13th canon (sorry, purists). He followed that up with 2006’s abysmal Skinwalkers, and now he seems to be back on track with Pig Hunt, and indie-horror feature that was actually lensed in 2008 before going on to play the horror and sci-fi festival circuit throughout most of 2009 and even into 2010. A few months back it finally turned up on DVD (extras include a making-of featurette, the trailer, and a seriously feature commentary track with Isaac and co-writer/co-producer Robert Mailer Anderson that really adds a lot to one’s appreciation of the work that went into this thing while remaining ridiculously entertaining from start to finish —needless to say, the widescreen transfer and 5.1 sound are both pretty much perfect since this is, you know, a new movie) thanks to Phase 4 Films under the Fangoria FrightFest Presents label (like a lot of independently-produced genre features that received decent-enough notices while playing the festivals in the last few years — the other major player in this area being Lionsgate with their After Dark Horrorfest series) and this reviewer, who has been giving the films under this banner a go here and there since they came out, found it to be the best of an admittedly very mixed bag.
The damn thing is, it really shouldn’t work — it’s got red flags all over it. There’s an overstuffed cast full of wildly contradictory characters and even more wildly contradictory scenarios, a two-guys-in-a-suit monster, an exposition-laden, supremely talky (at least for a horror flick) script, and some dodgy CGI work on display at times. Nevertheless, Isaac really does manage to pull it off — Pig Hunt is a wild, if slow (how’s that for yet another contradiction?) ride, full of sumptuously-shot northern California (Boonville, to be precise, where co-writer/co-producer Robert Mailer Anderson, and his co-writer brother, Zack Anderson, hail from) location work that lends the film a sense of both authenticity and genuine foreboding. Simply put, it’s obvious that these guys know this area well and use that to their advantage.
Our story centers around a group of “weekend warrior”-types out for a couple days’ hunting in the forest area where one of them, our erstwhile “hero”, John (Travis Aaron Wade), grew up. John’s an Iraq war vet (and yes, there’s some anti-war, anti-Gitmo, anti-all-that-shit stuff sprinkled throughout the proceedings, which never bothers me but might grate a bit on the nerves of any right-winger who sees this thing) who hangs around with a bunch of other wannabes who work at Costco. He’s also a rather pussy-whipped dude by the look of things, as he’s easily cajoled into taking his ball-busting (but admittedly rather fetching — the actress’s name is Tina Huang, in case it’s of any interest) girlfriend, Brooks (with a name like that don’t you just hope she dies violently?) with him on this so-obviously-doomed-it’s-not-even-funny excursion that for all intents and purposes has “Guy’s-Only Weekend” written all over it.
John’s got an uncle that lived up in the area they’re headed for, and he went crazy and disappeared some time ago, so a visit to the old family haunts is definitely on the agenda, as well. In fact, they plan to set up camp on his late uncle’s property. Wild boar is the target of choice this weekend, and local legend has it that there’s a 3,000-pound pig roaming the forests that the rednecks call “The Ripper.” John’s uncle, in fact, appears to have been pursuing (or, more likely, being pursued by) this beast when he departed this mortal coil. Me, I’d stay the hell away, but these guys figure they can bag some reg’lar swine while avoiding the big fella. Good luck with that.
Needless to say, John’s buddies being the city-dwelling fuck-ups that they are, things all go to pot (literally and figuratively, as we shall soon see) pretty quickly, as the yokel Tibbs Brothers, who grew up with John, show up to lend some local flavor to the proceedings, snort some crank, and generally wreck everybody’s good time. Still, these guys know the area, and sticking with them might just mean the difference between life and death — until one of them is killed and their whole murderous, motorcycle-riding, inbred clan head out for revenge on our city-slicker hunting party. Could it be that salvation — or at least safety — might come from the cultist hippie commune comprised of dozens of naked, blond white chicks (and let by one seriously feral and ravenous black guy who knows what he likes and surrounds himself with it!) that grow — and smoke — copious amounts of pot by day and —gulp! — worship a giant pig that sure sounds a lot like it might be “The Ripper” by night?
So it’s all here, folks, including the kitchen sink — motorbike chases, hillbilly throwbacks, racial and sexual stereotyping, Manson Family-style dropout drug-dealing cultists, doomed city folk heading out where they don’t belong —and a seriously mean giant pig. The stew is pretty loaded with ingredients, but chef Isaac somehow pulls it all off. The cast, as I mentioned, is uneven at best, some of the redneck dialogue is hopelessly corny, the sex-crazed-black-dude-with-a-harem-of-white-honeys-in-the-woods trope ought to come off as a hell of lot more offensive than it somehow manages to, and a couple guys in a zip-up pig suit at the end should be just plain laughable. And yet —
The tone Isaac takes with this admittedly outrageous material is so absolutely spot-on that the whole mishmash really works. He never takes events too seriously, yet he doesn’t play it all for laughs, either. As I mentioned earlier, the terrific filming locations really help set the mood, and there’s some genuine suspense here that makes itself felt at all the right times. the “cult-commune” set-up is both absurdly OTT and suitably creepy at the same time. The rednecks come off as both hopelessly stereotypical and honestly threatening. And the giant pig — as well as most of the non-CGI-gore effects liberally interspersed throughout — really does look pretty damn good. So count me as a believer in Isaac again, because any slight shift in tone or emphasis here and we’d be firmly into truly absurdist territory. There’s literally only one way for any mix this heady and outrageous to work without turning into some sort of self-parody, and our guy Jim finds it.
Yes, Pig Hunt is outrageous. And on paper, it probably looked like a giant quagmire waiting for some helpless sap to fall into it. But in its realization, Jim Isaac really hits the ball out of the park. It’s nothing groundbreaking or extraordinary, but it’s way better than it probably has any right to be, and it’s a solidly entertaining time from the word go to the word stop. It’s comical where it needs to be, suspenseful where it needs to be, and uniformly in tune with both its material and its audience throughout. With a no-name cast, a small budget (apparently around $6 million), challenging working conditions, and a short-and-tight shooting schedule, one could be forgiven for expecting an unholy mess. Instead, it’s a damn solid little flick that will make you laugh, creep you out just a bit, show you a few corners of society you’re unlikely to see for yourself (albeit in heavily caricatureized form) and even keep you on the edge of your seat. Making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, indeed.