“I’m talking about the power of positivity”
I guess a little positivity goes a long way after three years in prison. One must remain hopeful because the alternative is simply a journey back into despair. So why not call all your old friends for a celebration of freedom? Why not roam over to your beau’s house and enjoy the embrace of love after so much time apart? Why not believe life can go back to the way it was? To think so is a nice dream, one to hold onto in order to keep going when everything else seems futile. Hope is often all we have to continue driving us forward—a goal, no matter how unattainable, to light a fire so we may improve ourselves and earn the victory we believe still awaits.
This is the heartbreaking reality writer/director Joshua Locy delivers with his debut feature Hunter Gatherer. It’s a film that packs a devastating punch to the gut—one biding time until the hope Ashley Douglas (Andre Royo) clutched so tightly evaporates right before his eyes. We get a taste of it at the beginning along with his ability to deflect the pain he’s worked so hard to erase. Adversity is met with an air of superiority, his obviously lost forty-something treading water and puffing out his chest without cause besides masking a wealth of insecurities and self-hatred no one who looks at him can miss. His “friends” can’t come to the party. His girl Linda (Ashley Wilkerson) has moved on. A return to Ashley’s life means a return to the hustle.
Yet he keeps moving forward, simultaneously nostalgic for the life he could have led and cautiously optimistic towards the one unfolding before him. And luck seems to finally have found him with the chance meeting of a new friend in Jeremy Pittman (George Sample III). Here’s a kind, young soul who epitomizes the lifestyle Ashley preaches, someone devoting his life to his ailing grandfather while also having the capacity to see the best in people. He makes his money selflessly participating in experimental medical trials, takes swimming lessons to help strengthen his lungs against hereditary disease, and never stops making himself available to assist those in need. Ashley of course takes advantage of this last trait (despite good intentions) because he’s always looked out for Number #1.
But even so Jeremy doesn’t seem to mind. He actually appears to be enjoying his time with this ex-con searching for the newest, most lucrative angle. And Ashley is definitely loving his cohort: an assistant of sorts who not only has a pickup truck his latest scheme could use, but also an aunt (Kellee Stewart‘s Nat) with which he can find companionship while pining over Linda. Heck, Jeremy even knows a teacher that’s willing to sharpen some of the educational edges Ashley neglected over the years—the stuff that may help him woo the woman he let slip away. Change won’t be easy considering he lives with his mother and thinks he can start a small business carting away old refrigerators, but it is possible. Believe and ye shall receive.
If only it were that simple. Locy thankfully isn’t interested in allowing his lead character’s fairy tale quest for redemption to simply resolve itself in a happily ever after. Life and authenticity won’t allow it. He does add some intriguing details traveling beyond pure realism (the electrified patches on Jeremy’s torso, the impossible respiratory machine his granddad invented that no one can fix, and Ashley’s day dreams of hallucinatory collage), but these are more to add flavor rather than dictate tone. Much like a film with a similar trajectory in The Fisher King, these characters are trapped in a reality they’ve tried to desperately escape psychologically if not physically. And when the hope driving them proves nothing but naïve fantasy, the lie sadly can no longer be swallowed.
We move from a genial, symbiotic camaraderie to a whirlwind of selfish necessity. When things were possible Ashley and Jeremy were inseparable. But when things come unglued they retreat into their own insulated minds. This change sets them onto a tragic path, one where the loneliness they yearned to shake rears its head for one more dance. Ashley is deluded beyond belief that his love will live forever, Jeremy that he can save his granddad from death. They work tirelessly at their respective missions, going above and beyond to the point of not being together for an extended period of time. Finding each other may have saved them both, and now their subsequent separation pushes them back onto obsessive quests destined to fail. It will potentially destroy them.
I cannot say I anticipated the direction Locy takes, but it’s ultimately the only direction that works. There’s something to the dedication these characters possess, the notion that they’re each motivated by one single desire fate has declared just out of arm’s reach. It’s not as though they don’t have surrogates to get by either what with Ashley’s ability to be a father figure to Jeremy and Nat’s aspirations to be Ashley’s new Linda. It’s not that Hunter Gatherer preaches an idea of settling for a shadow of what’s true either, though. Ashley and Jeremy aren’t being given a choice. Only in their minds does the possibility of fixing what’s broken exist. You can’t settle when the so-called “better” option will never be an option you can choose.
Every character involved teeters on this edge. Ashley and Jeremy are just the two unable to accept reality. Linda has found stability with Dwayne the Garbage Man (Antonio D. Charity) and Nat sees security with Ray the Motelier (Kevin Jackson). We see the promise beneath their sad eyes talking to Ashley because he makes them sad. It’s the other way around for him and Jeremy. With Royo and Sample we see sadness underneath the smiles and jokes. We notice the longing and pain they refuse to accept in order to move on. It comes out when things don’t resolve the way they want, frustration unleashed as a defense mechanism to hide their panic. The film itself follows suit, it’s cheery demeanor masking the unavoidable sorrow below.