There have a few times over my years of attending film festivals that I’ve seen a short film so amazing I wish it had been feature-length. More often than not, I’ve seen films that would have worked as shorts, but fall apart as features. Unfortunately, Van Von Hunter falls into the latter category.
Based on a Manga series, the film is a mockumentary that envisions titular character crossing the threshold between his imaginary land of Dikay into our reality; specifically, Hollywood. He meets up with a student filmmaker who, intrigued by Von Hunter’s dedication to hunting evil “stuff”, encourages him to audition for a moving being made of the Manga based on him. What follows is a fish-out-of-water story, where Von Hunter learns of the evils of Hollywood, the trauma of love, and the precarious nature of stardom.
I don’t agree with a lot of film critics who also pounce on aesthetic and visual quality; as long as I can see and hear everything, I think a film should be able to stand on its story and am more than happy to watch films of a more amateur quality. And certainly there were some great moments in the film, such as the use of the Manga image on screen, a combination of animation and live action as the story showed panels from the book moving the viewer through the story as a nod to the original source material. But Van Von Hunter’s story is not sustainable. It is based on very inside jokes for the most part, and the laughs that do come are so few and far between as to make the interim almost interminable.
The actors are not to be faulted. Yuri Lowenthal as the main character gives it would seem everything he has, and certainly Van Von Hunter is nuanced enough; often Lowenthal throws in a subtle yet noticeable tilt of the head or half-smile that conveys far more than the script. But it is the script that is the problem; the story just isn’t interesting enough. The predictability of the narrative leads to some interesting moments, but with such a long running time they are lost.
Perhaps a better use of the film would have been to do a direct adaptation of the Manga, or as I thought while watching the film, to make it a short. 30 minutes would have been enough and would have seen the story move along at a good pace. Considering the character and the world he inhabits, a more frenetic pace would have helped. In comedy, it is always preferable not to dwell or allow the viewer to contemplate. Hit them with jokes and gags one right after the other. The longer the story is dragged out, the less readily the laughs come.
Perhaps this is a movie just for fans of Manga, or the Van Von Hunter series, and it was just lost on me. But at times it just seemed too self-indulgent (especially considering the directors Stu Levy and Steven Calcote also wrote the script and starred as versions of themselves.) A short of the story would have been great; a feature was almost unbearable.