A couple of weeks ago, when the Halloween season was in full-swing, I received an email from a lovely chap named Jason Ruddy. Jason is a UK-based writer and director, who has recently worked on a short film, and he wondered if I might like to take a look.
Keen to see what Jason had been up to, I agreed and he kindly shared his short film with me. Unfortunately, at this particular point in time, it was peak spooky season and I was up to my eyeballs in horror content and films reviews, so I was unable to give it my full attention (sorry, Jason!).
However, fast-forward a couple of weeks, and with Halloween now done-and-dusted for another year, this morning I sat down to watch Jason’s short film, the intriguingly titled Hunting Bears. The film – which he wrote and directed – runs around ten minutes in length, and is more-or-less a two-hander, starring Nathaniel Parker and Joel Beckett.
Now, before I go any further with plot details and such, let me just say that even though it took me a couple of weeks to sit down and watch Hunting Bears, it was worth the wait. Not only did I love what I saw, I watched it through twice.
Hunting Bears centres its story around two brothers: Kenny and Andy. Kenny is the older of the two, and is living with a long-term health condition, which is implied to be a form of dementia.
In the absence of their parents, Andy has become Kenny’s de facto carer. He looks after his brother to the best of his ability, but it is a difficult task and a huge responsibility, which he is now struggling with.
Having reached a point where he can no longer cope, Andy takes Kenny on a trip to the woods. He parks the car, the two set off, and they travel to a secluded spot where they can be completely alone.
Andy plans to use this time away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world, to address his feelings about Kenny’s condition. However, it soon becomes clear, the anger and frustration he feels about Kenny’s illness has engulfed his life, and their relationship is about to take an unsettling turn.
I won’t go into any further details about the story, so not to spoil anything, but I will say there is a great deal more to Hunting Bears than the few words I’ve offered up above. In fact, for what is a ten-minute short, Hunting Bears has a lot to say and conveys its central themes about mental health very well.
What the movie lacks in running time, it makes up for in its story and its use of drama. This is a film which knows exactly how to get to the heart of its tale very quickly, while ensuring it delivers some hard-hitting content and mature themes.
It does all this through the use of its dialogue, as well as various incidental and emotive moments which are used to help inform the story. These moments add depth to the characters, and their situation, and are subtle ways to convey thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
For example, even though the film shows Andy’s frustration over Kenny’s condition, there are small moments in the story in which his compassion and care for his brother shine through. Andy is beyond breaking point and incredibly tired, having become the sole carer of Kenny, yet he still finds time to tie his brother’s shoelace, offer him a sandwich when he is hungry, or console him (no doubt for the hundredth time) over the loss of their parents.
It’s moments like these which show how much Andy still loves his brother. He doesn’t need to speak the words “I love you” out loud, because his actions speak for him, meaning there’s no need to waste any dialogue here.
But when dialogue is used, it is used to great effect. There is a very important moment in the film, when Andy begins to open up about his feelings, and it becomes clear that he is suffering with his own mental health issues too.
At one point he says: “You know where I’m coming from though, Kenny, don’t you? I mean… you’re not yourself.” This line is used to address the fact that it’s not just Kenny who is mentally impacted by his condition, this illness is now affecting Andy too, and it speaks volumes.
One of the things which people often forget when someone is diagnosed with a life-changing condition, is how it can irrevocably impact family and friends. Writer/director Jason Ruddy makes sure to flag this up in his script, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Something else which also doesn’t go unnoticed in Hunting Bears is just how good actors Nathaniel Parker and Joel Beckett are. Parker takes on the role of Kenny, while Beckett plays Andy.
Both actors are familiar to British audiences, having appeared in countless shows and movies over the years. Nathaniel Parker is perhaps best known for playing Thomas Lynley in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, while Beckett has taken roles in a string of British TV institutions, including Eastenders, The Bill, Holby City, and The Office, amongst others.
The combination of these two actors can’t be understated. They are familiar, they are relatable, they know exactly how to live and breath their roles, and they sell their story very well.
Parker and Beckett are then aided by a very haunting, yet very beautiful Buckinghamshire backdrop, which sets the scene for this heart-breaking tale. There is also a superb score courtesy of composer Dave Rowntree, which captures the right tone and mood for this piece.
And yes, it is THAT Dave Rowntree, formerly of Blur. Rowntree is a composer of great music, and his score adds further depth to this excellent film.
As someone who has had experience with a family member who lived with dementia, I can appreciate just how impactful this health condition can be. I also have some understanding of mental health issues, and am aware of how one can feed into the other.
As such, not only did I find Hunting Bears to be a fine film in its own right, it touched me on a personal level. I found parts of it very moving, it gave me much to think about, and with its expert storytelling (including an intriguing opening) it surprised me along the way.
Hunting Bears is a fine piece of filmmaking and one which will remain with me for some time. It works incredibly well for a ten-minute film, and I look forward to seeing what Jason Ruddy does next.
Hunting Bears will be available to view online in 2023.