The old 'throw a bunch of strangers in a dark enclosed space and watch bad things ensue' trick has become something of its own subgenre in the horror world. Between random titles like Vile, Die, Shadow Puppets, and the gloriously Clarissa-full Nine Dead, these kinds of 90 minute titles just keep popping up on Instant Watch. 2008's Hunger--not the one with Fassbender's boner--seemed to into that grouping of a post-Saw 2-world, so let's dip ourselves in grime and frowns and hop on in.
Quick Plot: Five strangers awaken inside a lonely well, where the only articles left are a few tubs of water and a single carving knife. There's also a super neat adjustable video camera controlled by their kidnapper, a well-dressed man who's been keeping notes on his victims and seems to be conducting some sort of experiment: how will a person change when starvation kicks in?
Of course, these aren't just any people. We've got a nice guy contractor who helped assist in his cancer-stricken wife's suicide. A vacant dancer who killed her abusive boyfriend. The Token Short-Tempered Jerk (there's always one) who was involved in a fatal grocery store robbery. A blond doctor named Jordan whose murderous crime I didn't hear.*** And a twitchy man who has actually NOT killed anyone and who, based on flashes of the unnamed kidnapper's work station, is to serve as the experiment's control.
Basically, these five people are left to do nothing but complain about how hungry they are. An attempt at escape ends in effectively executed disappointment. The Control tries to breed cockroaches, something that proves difficult when The Short-Tempered Jerk keeps eating them. Conflict ensues, cannibalism happens, and nobody ever thinks to instead pass the time playing 20 Questions or Never Have I Ever.
Directed by newcomer Steven Hentges, Hunger is a slickly made horror film that definitely sits higher than some of its competition. In terms of its performances and dialogue, the movie doesn't embarrass itself (a la Nine Dead) and scores quite a few effective moments of shock and disgust. Yes, seeing little skin flaps hanging out of our hungry cavedwellers' mouths lends itself to chuckles, but the actors keep the material fairly engaging when covered in blood and human crumbs.
At the same time, just when Hunger is getting good, it decides to also get dull. After 20 or so days in their bricked prison, the survivors fall into specifically combative roles akin to the much more compelling The Divide. The conflict between these characters starts to become quite fascinating, but unfortunately, L.D. Goffigan's script quickly veers away from that line to instead focus on the least interesting character's interaction with a not-defined-at-all villain.
Speaking of, Bjorn Johnson's silent puppetmaster is easily Hunger's biggest frustration. Though he's given an ickily fun Hannibal Lector-esque backstory, the film never gives the unnamed character the chance to do anything interesting as an adult. He sits at a computer watching the action, frantically zooms in and moves his hidden camera, writes down notes, and alternatively smiles or huffs. What is he hoping to see? The film seems to want him to be a simple 'scientist' (based on his credited character name) but that doesn't necessarily gel with his brutally murderous actions towards a few innocent bystanders. Then again, that entire aside feels like an added scene of standard horror forced into the film to up the running length or provide more action. It's unnecessary, and does no service to an already problematic character.
Have I been getting soft in my old age? As I look back at the recent indie Instant Watch releases I've reviewed here--Asylum's A Haunting In Salem, to name one--I see a pattern developing. I just can't hate a small-scale genre film that does a lot of things right, even when there are plenty of glaring things wrong inside. I didn't have a great time with Hunger, but the film was more than serviceable for most of its running time, throwing in a few surprise tricks while executing itself well. It's a good start, though I doubt I'll remember much about it one year from now. Then again, that IS a sign of old age.
With its simple brick wall and bug-trampled ground, the actual well makes an excellent setting. Too often these kinds of 'wake up in an abandoned place' movies rely on unrealistic warehouse or black room settings, but Hunger's claustrophobic setting works quite well in capturing the utter hopelessness of its victims
Considering the dialogue is decent enough, it’s a shame that we can barely hear most of it over the much louder musical score
The less said about the pretty unbelievable feat of strength displayed during the ending the better
Just because you’re starving to death is no reason not to have your lip gloss looking good
A broken clavicle is a huge dealbreaker for female doctors
DIY B.F. Skinner wannabes are very thorough about recording their data by computer AND hand
As a 90 minute Instant Watch fix, Hunger is perfectly fine. While it falls into the common post-Saw world of stranger danger claustrophobia, it does tread some new water with the starvation/cannibalism angle, and all is aided by the solid enough cast and a well-designed setting. Many will find it too grimy, derivative, or just plain mediocre. It is these things, but it’s better at being these things than a lot of other Instant Watch offerings.
My scale of measurement is not high. Now show me some skin.
***The question of what crime Jordan committed was nagging at me, though I chalked it up to 'I have oddly poor hearing for a 30-year-old and/or get distracted by shiny things and might have missed this piece of information.' Thankfully, there's a usually useless resource for movie watchers known as Imdebah Message Boards, and sure enough, in that typical wasteland was a solid explanation for what I thought to be my stupidity: a deleted scene on the DVD reveals Jordan, as a doctor, let a man die on her operating table because he also happened to be her rapist. It makes perfect sense to the character, though why such information would be edited out of the final cut is beyond me, especially considering the young couple murder that seemed to be added simply to pad the running time.