Hunting Daze

Hunting Daze (Jour de Chasse) (2024)

Hunting Daze (Jour de Chasse) had its World Première at the SXSW 2024

Nina (Nahéma Ricci) stands against a rockface, her eyes closed as though asleep, until she opens them to watch two noisy birds circling overhead. This imagery in the opening sequence of Hunting Daze (Jour de Chasse) will recur, with significant variations, at its end – but for now, Gina is furious with her manager Mike (Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) who, while  transporting her and two other strippers (Lou Thompson, Alexia Roc) cross-country to their next venue, forgot to fill the tank or keep an eye on the fuel gauge.  So now they are out of gas and stranded, in “buttfuck nowhere” somewhere in the Canadian backwoods, on an otherwise empty two-lane road which snakes through this wilderness like a thin lifeline to civilisation. Tough, resourceful Nina also has her own lines in the ground: she will not do more than strip for men, and indeed will never do anything, for any price, that she does not want to. When Mike makes the mistake of calling Nina a ‘whore’ and laying his hands on her, she punches him in the mouth hard enough to draw blood, and leaves with Kevin (Frédéric Millaire-Zouvi), a customer from the previous night whom she had called up to bring them an extra can of petrol. 

The opening credits of Hunting Daze may be written in bright pink (resonating with the titles of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, 2017) to match the hue of Nina’s nail polish, and to gender the film in feminine colours – but with nowhere else to go, Nina is about to cross over into an all-male space. For she joins the self-styled wolf pack of Kevin, Bernard (Bruno Marcil), Philippe (Marc Beaupré) and his dog Mack, Claude (Maxime Genois) and groom-to-be LP (Alexandre Landry) – city slickers one and all who have chosen to devote their bachelor party to wild masculine rites of passage beyond the bounds of their effete urban existences. They may have LP got up as a ‘bride’ in a parody of femininity, but once there is a real woman in their midst, the difference become stark. When Nina is invited to join the pack, their alpha Bernard tells her ominously that it is “for life and death”, and that she must do as they do. Part of her initiation rite requires that she shoot a doll, in a symbolic act of renouncing – killing, even – her own sex. As Bernard says to her, ”Carry yourself like a man.” Another part of the rite is that she keep an egg on a spoon placed in her mouth – and when the egg falls and breaks, spreading its yolk across the grassy woodland floor, it seems clear that Nina is also sacrificing something of her innocence to this enterprise.

Hunting Daze

As Nina joins in the hunting, the drinking, the drug taking, the games of oneupmanship and the bonding badinage, she discovers to her – and our – surprise that she is not just in the company of men, but also in her element. After all, they are respectful of her boundaries, up for anything, and a whole lot of fun. But when another outsider, Dudos (Noubi Ndiaye), joins this group, as different from the five stags in his race and culture as Nina is in her sex, things take a turn. For as tends to happen when men behave like boys together, and when fire, guns and intoxicants are all brought into the mix, accidents can readily happen, leading to very bad things. As the consequences spin out of control, and the moral dilemmas mount, Nina realises that she is, after all, rather different in attitude and outlook from her new male buddies, and does not want to have any part in their collective coverup. “Enough with your childishness!” she will say, exasperated by their faux-Nietzschean philosophising and empty, arrested ethics. 

Unfolding in a liminal forested zone that is all at once grounded and mythic, writer/director Annick Blanc’s lyrical feature debut blurs Nina’s reality with her vivid dreams. Indeed, her sojourn in the wild becomes a sort of vision quest, where, straying from the ‘pack’, she finds the wolf without as well as within, and becomes able to see clearly, along the fluid line between man and woman, her own – and everyone else’s – true nature. An aerial shot of the whole ensemble curled up asleep on the grass recreates the closing credit sequence of Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent (2014), as though to suggest that what we are watching may be a group hallucination, beyond everyday experience – yet Nina’s uneasy efforts to locate her own individual path, and her reluctance to settle for being either a sexualised object or just ‘one of the boys’, allegorise the familiar female struggle with being lost in the woods of patriarchy. For this is a dreamy vision of what it is to be a woman in a man’s world.

Hunting Daze

As at the beginning, when she had to deal with the consequences of Mike’s deficiencies as a driver, Nina once again becomes fed up with the puerile irresponsibility of those around her, until she ultimately moves in and wrests control of the wheel herself. “What’s irreparable cannot be repaired,” says Dudos, “Mother Nature is the one and only redeemer” – and whether his words are actually uttered, or merely imagined in one of Nina’s oneiric dazes, she takes them to heart, and finds a way out of her thorny predicament with her conscience and integrity intact. 

strap: In Annick Blanc’s dreamy feature debut, a tough stripper finds herself lost in the woods, and in the the company of men

© Anton Bitel