Saw did a lot of things to the modern horror industry. It brought back gore in a big way, even if the original film was not particularly gory. It made the concept of twisted experimentation and mad geniuses viable for mainstream audiences again. It also acted as a spark for indie filmmakers to take big risks on one room horror concepts. The minimal locations and outside manipulation allow for suggestion and psychology to take center stage in brutal horror stories. If you have the right screenplay, the Saw approach can make for a really memorable film.
Hunger is clearly influenced by this suggestive psychological minimalism. Five strangers wake up in an underground cavern with water, a few halogen light fixtures, and a countdown clock on the wall. When the lights go up, they find a scalpel that simply says that humans can survive without food for 30 days. They quickly realize they are being watched and try to find any means for escape.
At the same time, the curtain is pulled back on the madman's game. This capture is not a simple game or exercise in cheap thrills for him. This is a precise scientific experiment. There are four similar subjects plus a control, research, hypotheses, and exacting reports to fill out as the clock ticks down to total starvation.
Screenwriter L.D. Goffigan manages to get a lot of mileage out of this conceit. Time skips around in the scientist's world, allowing for enough context at key moments to advance the story. The characters within the experiment don't even follow the cliches they're saddled with in their dark introduction. Nothing is clear and no one is playing an honest game.
The problems kick in with the editing. The pacing of the story is off. Far too much time is wasted establishing the character types that don't stick after the initial meeting. Hunger dwells on the mundane as a way to establish order in the experiment's universe. Even with a massive time skip after the first act, the story takes too long to actually get to the real meat of the concept. Then, the story stops dead in its tracks to linger on a gore scene the film doesn't have the budget to pull off believably.
What money they did have is clearly shown on the screen. The cave set is gorgeous. From the layered slats of the entrance well to the paths blocked with bricks and hidden observation/control technology, Hunger looks dangerous.
Hunger is a horror film with no limits when it comes to storytelling. This uninhibited style succeeds and fails in equal measure. With more judicious editing (onscreen and on the shoot), it could have been a tight psychological horror. A bigger budget would only have meant more focus on the gore. This is a horror story about the impact of the human body on the human mind and it falls just short of achieving its lofty goals.
This is another one of those films that kept popping up in my Netflix recommendations. Honestly, I'd be more interested in seeing it onstage without direct knowledge of the scientist's actions throughout the story. It would limit the distraction of the gore and place the focus on the wonderfully complex characters. Have you seen Hunger? Sound off with your thoughts below.