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The central character of Josh Locy’s debut feature is Ashley (Andre Royo), a recently released, fortysomething ex-con who returns to his old neighborhood to restart his life and regain the love of his former girlfriend, Linda (Ashley Wilkerson). Linda has moved on to a new boyfriend, and the only way Ashley has of earning money is through a dubious scheme involving used refrigerators. None of this dents his confident swagger, however. Ashley is an engaging figure whose travails provide modest amusement, even if both he and the film, Hunter Gatherer, seem far too pleased with themselves.
The pic portrays a lower-class, black neighborhood in which everyone is doing their best to survive and eke out a little happiness in the process. Ashley soon joins forces with Jeremy (George Sample III), a somewhat mentally challenged young man who serves as a guinea pig for a series of medical experiments involving mysterious electrode-like devices attached to his body. Jeremy’s goal is to make enough money to repair the homemade respirator that he’s convinced is keeping his elderly grandfather alive.
After being rebuffed by Linda, who reminds him that he didn’t once write to her from prison, Ashley immediately takes up with Jeremy’s good-hearted aunt (Kellee Stewart). He takes pains to assure her that his heart belongs to Linda and that he firmly intends to take up with her again if he can pry her away from her new boyfriend, Dwayne (Antonio D. Charity), a friendly garbage man.
Director/screenwriter Locy seems less interested in plot machinations than exploring the foibles of his quirky characters and establishing a gentle, magical realism-infused atmosphere. Details are often left unexplored, such as when Ashley desperately digs up his mother’s (Celestial) backyard to find the mysterious “emergency box” he buried years earlier. When it’s finally unearthed, its contents include a pair of women’s panties, although the owner is unidentified. We also never learn why exactly Ashley went to prison, nor the nature of the medical experiment to which Jeremy is subjecting himself.
Although Hunter Gatherer has a certain shambling charm, much of it provided by Royo’s amusingly frenetic performance (the actor also was terrific in his most prominent previous role, the heroin-addicted “Bubbles” in The Wire), a little of its deadpan humor goes a long way. Most effective in minutely observational mode, the film falters when it enters surreal territory or indulges in psychedelia-tinged stylistic touches. Nonetheless, it displays enough originality to mark its tyro filmmaker, whose only previous credits are as actor and production designer, as a talent to watch.
Distributor: The Orchard
Production company: Mama Bear Studios
Cast: Andre Royo, George Sample III, Kellee Stewart, Ashley Wilkerson, Kevin Jackson, Antonio D. Charity
Director-screenwriter: Josh Locy
Producers: April Lamb, Sara Murphy, Isaiah Smallman, Michael Covino
Executive producers: David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Brandon James, Alexander Uhlmann, Barry Large, Allan Davis, Ted Alling, Drew Belz, Gilda Moratti, Sam Kretchmar, Kyle Marvin, Andre Royo, Jesse Kahn
Director of photography: Jon Aguirresarobe
Production designer: Thomas Obed
Editor: Adam Robinson
Costume designer: Karen Baird
Composer: Keegan DeWitt
Casting: Sunday Boling, Meg Morman
Not rated, 85 minutes
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