Jun 21, 2022
Joel Beckett, Nathaniel Parker
A man staggers across an empty, frosty field, out of breath and panting, almost falling to his knees. Odd, you think to yourself - who’s he running from? Then you realise that the man is covered in blood. The question then becomes what’s he running from? What has this man done? They’re the kind of questions packed into the opening of ‘Hunting Bears’ - a short film full of intrigue.
The opening suggests a film about Kenny (Nathaniel Parker) getting away from his past, but in fact, the rest of the film is more of a discovery about it. Kenny’s last line of dialogue before cutting to the title card is crucial - ‘Where am I?’ - which at first appears perfectly reasonable under the circumstances but soon stands out as symbolic of his debilitating Alzheimer’s disorder. Following the title card, we cut to the past. Same frosty weather but this time we’re in a forest, and Kenny is not alone.
He’s with his brother Andy (Joel Beckett), who has reluctantly been caring for Kenny for the past couple of years. Andy, who appears physically younger than Kenny, is uptight and on edge - he’s at the end of his tether with his brother. The responsibility of caring for Kenny has grown to become too much, and so he takes him on a trip down memory lane - to a forest they grew up with - in order to search for a solution to his troubles.
Both Nathaniel Parker and Joel Beckett are magnificent in their roles, finding the right footing to express their characters as a poor, clueless man and a wound-up, aggressive brother. They bounce well off each other, and portray their characters as intentionally narrowly as they were written, with good spatial awareness from Parker in particular.
The script, which at first seems a little one-dimensional in its characterisation, slowly reveals itself to be top-notch stuff from writer-director Jason Ruddy. Whilst the script initially appears to have painted its characters as broadly as possible, it becomes apparent that that is the exact purpose - that these people could feasibly be anyone. This is matched with direction which is full of suspense and tension, as Ruddy, who was inspired by the experience of being a carer for his late mother, establishes a sense of foreboding and intrigue around the film.
With the film being inspired by Jason Ruddy’s experience of being a carer for his late mother, the film is full of understanding and heart on both Andy and Kenny’s side. We’re encouraged to sympathise more naturally with Kenny due to his condition, however, too often people like Andy are presented as antagonists with no redeemable character traits. On the contrary, we’re encouraged to look at the situation from Andy’s perspective, and the burden which caring for his brother has had on his life and health.
Though the film suffers, as it becomes apparent shortly after the title card where the story is headed - meaning that the end is hardly as surprising as it wants to be - ‘Hunting Bears’ is nevertheless an excellent example of how to make a short film about a difficult subject, and fill it with heart and class in equal measure.