Written, directed, and produced by Martine Blue, Hunting Pignut is the story of Bernice, played by Taylor Hickson (Aftermath, Deadpool), a teenager in a rural Newfoundland community. She is a typical teenage misfit: lonely, bullied at school for no obvious reason, and picked last at sports. When Bernice’s estranged father dies of a drug overdose, his wake is crashed by a gang of gutter punks claiming to have been his closest friends – one of whom steals Bernice’s father’s ashes, inspiring Bernice to pursue to face-tattooed hooligans to town to get them back. As she gets closer to her father’s friends, Bernice becomes fascinated by Pignut (Joel Thomas Hynes), a “disturbed” and violent poet.
Hickson is an actress to watch out for. She is excellent as Bernice, letting the character’s angst come through just enough that she is sympathetic without becoming melodramatic or overly juvenile. Though Bernice’s story runs a predictable course, Hickson keeps her feeling believable. Amelia Manuel also delivers a strong performance as Bernice’s mother, Bean.
The cinematography itself is a little rough around the edges and, besides a rather wonderfully shot scene of a PCP trip, doesn’t take too many risks. Martine Blue seems to favor wide shots, an approach that works in terms of the film’s themes of loneliness, isolation, and distance between characters but doesn’t make the most of Hickson’s abilities and leaves us feeling far away from her in moments of distress when it would have, perhaps, been better if we could have seen Bernice’s face and felt her anxieties alongside her.
I lived in Newfoundland for several years, and it’s refreshing to see a film that presents the province through a lens that isn’t rose-tinted by the tourist industry. Hunting Pignut felt truer to my experiences and memories of St. John’s than the usual images of fishing boats and saltbox houses set against a picturesque coast. Yes, those things are certainly real and present in Newfoundland – but so is drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, and a pervasive feeling of discontent with the status-quo.
The film’s music is a perfect reflection of this. Featuring contemporary Newfoundland artists like Matthew Hornell and Dani Bailey, the soundtrack steers clear of the usual stereotypes and clichés that are often associated with Newfoundland culture. There are no jigs and reels here, but the music is still deeply rooted in its place of origin. Haunting and authentic, it is one of the most memorable aspects of Hunting Pignut.
Considering this is Martine Blue’s first feature-length film, it is an admirable effort but without the gritty backdrop of Newfoundland’s less than postcard-perfect underbelly, the coming-of-age story would be easily forgettable.
Catch a sneak preview of Hunting Pignut on Wednesday, September 13 at select Landmark Cinemas. For screening details (as well as an exclusive 2-for-1 admission sale), click here.
Hunting Pignut opens in other Canadian theatres on Friday, September 15.
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Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage