Tthe local filmmakers behind The Hunting, a recently released horror movie, wanted more than the average middle-of-nowhere setting. They wanted the community they filmed in to feel like a character, to have real roots. Their solution: Make a movie right here in Northeast Ohio. Director Mark Hamer recalls wanting to create something the cast and crew could be proud of, because the location of the film wasn’t some random place; it was home.
Although Cleveland has served as the filming ground for several major Hollywood productions — such as The Avengers and Judas and the Black Messiah — the filmmakers behind The Hunting took things a step further. They wanted their film to rely exclusively on local talent and assets. As a part of that mission, Brecksville-based Garage Creative Studios produced the film with vice president and creative director Mark Hamer in the director’s chair.
“The goal was to really do a Cleveland production,” Hamer says. “From the very beginning when we first started talking about it, we knew this is something we wanted to do in Cleveland.”
The Hunting reimagines the traditional werewolf trope as a small-town detective and a nature conservationist who work together to uncover the mystery behind a man’s gruesome mutilation. The further they delve into the investigation, the closer they come to the truth about the monster. Without spoiling the plot, Hamer reveals that the werewolf becomes a metaphor for the post-traumatic stress disorder commonly experienced by combat veterans.
“It was really important to us to be able to do that,” Hamer says. “Just providing a little bit of awareness on the PTSD with some of our veterans, and just giving them respect.”
The movie, shot in November and December 2020, was filmed largely in Mantua in Portage County with a cast filled with local actors and icons.
Peyton Hillis, the former Cleveland Browns running back who will forever be known for gracing the cover of Madden 12, makes his acting debut in a lead role alongside Solon High School graduate Joelle Westwood. Hamer and producer Heather Terrance Ryan specifically sought out a former NFL player to play detective Connor Ryan because they wanted someone who matched the physique and passion intended for the character.
Hillis mirrored that vision well and brought a willingness to experiment that bolstered his performance. His NFL background made him receptive of direction, and Hamer commended Hillis for his interest in the nuances of the character, such as wondering what he would’ve eaten for lunch or how hard he might run.
Westwood cited the film’s familiar setting as a comfort that she leaned into during her first full-length film.
“It was nice because I got to shoot and then I’d come home and stay with my mom,” Westwood says.
Filming wrapped up production in January 2021, kicking off a four-month journey of editing and post-production. The Hunting premiered on Jan. 21 — almost exactly one year after Hamer last called “cut.”