This film was reviewed on November 18th as first seen at this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi

Generating major festival buzz this year is indie gem “Hunter Gatherer,” a somber slice of life from first-time writer and director Josh Locy. Locy, having previously worked as an art director on such films as “Camp X-Ray” and “Prince Avalanche,” jumps full force into the director’s seat and creates a memorable debut that finds the balance between a quiet simmer and powerful explosion. With support from “Avalanche” director David Gorden Green serving as the Executive Producer, “Hunter Gatherer” is a breath of fresh air within our current cinema landscape.

It’s been three years since Ashley (Andre Royo) has been back in the low-income neighborhood of Los Angeles he calls home. After a stint in jail for an undisclosed crime, he returns home more eager than ever to reconnect with his friends and more importantly, the woman he left behind. However, Ashley is devastated and heartbroken to learn that Linda (Ashley Wilkerson), the love of his life, has since moved on and with no desire to look back on him or their relationship since it was his actions that took him away from her (the fact that he never wrote for years didn’t help). But Ashley, confusing his naivete for positivity, thinks that despite all he has put her through, he can still win her back.

Needless to say, Ashely’s not in the best of spirits when he meets Jeremy (George Sample III), an earnest young man who befriends his down-and-out self right away. Jeremy is an old soul, a family oriented, level-headed kid who does the best he can with what little he has. He subjects himself to medical research test groups for money, unaware that he is being taken advantage of by the doctors that he thinks truly care about his well-being. His relationship with Ashley very much resembles a yin and yang balance: Ashley is spontaneous and wild, Jeremy is thoughtful and respectable, but together they compliment each others personality quirks. After taking a liking to Jeremy’s aunt Nat (Kellee Stewart), Ashley comes up with an idea to earn a quick buck – disposing of old refrigerators for cash. There is no doubt Ashley works hard, but his only goal is to use the money to win back Linda, regardless of the relationships he has with those who consider him a “friend.”

While a lot of Ashley’s actions are despicable, we can’t help but root for him. After all, he is the definition of a fool in love. Andre Royo gives this character the much-needed qualities of compassion and sincerity, and his performance is a heartbreaking one. Royo, who may be best known as Bubbles on HBO’s seminal television series classic “The Wire” proves that his talents extend far beyond just a memorable supporting character. He is a commanding leading man, playing to both the comedic and dramatic beats just right. A relative newcomer to the scene is George Sample III, and his is a name to remember. With his childlike innocence and specific character nuances, we can’t help but feel maternally responsible for Jeremy’s safety and happiness – at times a challenging task, but is made worth it just to see him smile.

Director Josh Locy didn’t set out to make a “glass half-full” type of film, that is clear. His vision is a realistic one, with whimsical montages sprinkled in. These surreal moments are a nice break from the reality of the narrative and play as if we are in the inner workings of Ashley’s mind, where all he thinks about is Linda. These stylish and artistic moments are much welcomed and give “Hunter Gatherer” even more depth and intrigue, making this somber indie comedy definitely one worth seeking out.

“Hunter Gatherer” is not rated. 90 minutes. Since reviewing, the film received a nomination for the Cassavetes Award (best film under 500k) at the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards.