When Kevin Kangas, director of the infamous Fear of Clowns, asked me if I’d like to take a look at his soon to be released film Bounty, I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’tFear of Clowns 3 and agreed to scope the picture out. Having seen very little other than a short clip, I didn’t really know what to expect (other than the absence of shirtless clowns) so I pressed play and braced myself for the worst. The surprising part is that I didn’t get it at all. Instead, in the six years since Fear of Clowns (and three since the much improved Fear of Clowns 2), Kevin Kangas has grown as both a writer and director, and his newest film should put his name into the minds of a lot more horror fans.
Bounty is set up like a documentary film. I know you can swing a stick and knock down 10 indie flicks with a similar style, but where Kangas turns the genre on its ear is in the subject matter, bail bondsmen and bounty hunters. Being an avid watcher of the train wreck that is Dog: The Bounty Hunter, I can say with confidence that the style of the film is right on. It’s a little less herky jerky than Cops has a tendency to be, but there’s still a bit of the disorienting camera flailing that we’ve all seen on reality cop series. As with the shows it pays homage to, the film begins with the average in and outs of the bounty hunting biz interspersed with slightly melodramatic monologs from the lead character, Carl “Grunt” Henderson played by Tom Proctor. It sets up its “reality” so well that if I flipped by it on TV unaware of what I was watching, I would assume it was a reality crime show that slipped under my radar. That would be quite a tall order because they are one of the few reality show fixes I allow myself.
After a bit of set up, the real plot is comes in, the search for a bail jumping scientist named Ernie Litwak (Neil Conway). When the bounty hunters track down an apartment that he rented, they don’t find the scientist, but they do find a girl bound and gagged in his bathroom with an array of used needles nearby. They release the girl, but when they do, she takes a bite out of Grunt’s son Kelly (Chris O’Brocki). They let her go on her way assuming that the wackjob Litwak was moving into serial killer territory. When they finally do track him down, it quickly becomes clear that he wasn’t experimenting on the girl; he was trying to cure her. Out on the street, the girl is infecting others with a virus she carries created to make a perfect combat soldier. It causes people to lose all fear, all inhibitions, and all humanity. The infected begin to mass with a single target in mind, Grunt, Litwak, and everyone around them, and it’s up to the Grunt to save the world from certain destruction.
Bounty is unlike any other I’ve watched in quite some time. It manages to take notes from things we’ve seen before, such as found footage films and the infected, and give them a new spin. Now, I’m not going to say Bounty is a perfect film. A couple of performances that don’t quite hit the target, and the middle portion of the film is bogged down with some repetitive scenes. However, once the climax starts building, hang onto your hat. The last third of the film is a manic rush that got my pulse pounding, and as a jaded viewer, that’s a pretty tall order. I thought it would be hard for me to separate the director of Fear of Clowns from his new work, but there was never a moment that Kangas’ earlier film entered my mind. This is one of the better independent films I’ve seen in a while, and it is a real feather in the director’s cap to have come up with such an original concept.
Bounty also features some great acting turns anchored by the lead, Tom Proctor. With his craggy face and fluffy mane of hair that brought to mind a Foghat roadie, he perfectly fit the role of “Grunt” the Bounty Hunter. Actor and stuntman Proctor may be unfamiliar to many folks, but he’s been around for a while with bit parts in films like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Fear of Clowns 2, and 2009’s Pandemic. Proctor has the kind of screen charisma that I could only compare to an actor like Tom Atkins, and I sincerely hope that he lands more lead roles in the future. Chris O’ Brocki and Michelle Trout also stand out as respectively Grunt’s son Kelly and his wife Maggie. Though Trout has only a minor role, she has one of the best scenes in the film that surely will be one of the standout moments. As I mentioned earlier, there were a couple of shaky performances. John Rutland, as Grunt’s sidekick Ing, and Neil Conway, as Litwak, both give some less than stellar line readings, but it takes little away from the film.
Working from his own script, Kevin Kangas fashions a film that would be hard pressed to be labeled as derivative, and a good deal of credit also deserves to go to both cinematographer Jarad Noe and editor Harvey Glatman for bringing the reality show look to life. Also, a very impressive atmospheric score really helped to ratchet the tension up a great deal. Even the metal song in the middle of the film, which sadly I forgot to jot down the name of, was both enjoyable and aptly placed. Overall, Bounty shows a director who has grown by leaps and bounds in only six years, and I certainly hope to see more of what he’s capable of in the future. I know it will be a while before Bounty gets a chance to be seen by a widespread audience, but it is a film you want to keep on your radar. When the name Kevin Kangas comes to mind, I will surely recall Fear of Clowns and the good-natured response he had to my review, but I think first my mind will go to Bounty, a film that I just can’t wait for more people to see.