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Since my parents inexplicably failed to instill in me a love for killing at an early age, I’ve never gone hunting. But I can imagine that it takes a lot of patience and exactitude before achieving the satisfaction of the final result.
Shawn Linden’s new thriller Hunter Hunter is a lot like that.
Release date: Dec 18, 2020
The film’s title is repetitive by design, providing a not-so-subtle hint that there will be more than one stalker of living creatures on display. The first of these in the 1990s-set story is Joseph (Devon Sawa, of Final Destination and Idle Hands), a fur trapper who lives with his wife, Anne (Camille Sullivan, veteran of many Canadian television dramas), and their teenage daughter, Renee (Summer H. Howell), in a remote wilderness region of Manitoba. The rugged Joseph prides himself on his self-reliance, so when his prey are regularly snatched from his traps by what he assumes to be a wolf, he disdains Anne’s suggestion that they seek help from the local wildlife authorities. Instead, he sets out to kill the rogue animal on his own, a decision that will have fateful consequences.
Director-screenwriter Linden (The Good Lie, Nobody) sets a slow and steady pace, at times threatening to become tedious, as he carefully establishes the family’s complex emotional dynamics, which include Anne’s growing doubt about their off-the-grid lifestyle and Renee’s desire to follow in her father’s footsteps. For a good portion of the running time, the film revolves around Anne and Renee’s growing anxiety during Joseph’s prolonged absence. Along the way, they have a scary encounter of their own with a wolf, in a scene in which Anne demonstrates her ingenuity and fierce protectiveness toward her child. As their food begins to run out, she is also forced to kill a rabbit with her bare hands, breaking down in hysterics as she does so.
When they a find a seriously wounded stranger (Nick Stahl) not far from their cabin, Anne takes him in and nurses him back to health. It’s another decision that that turns out to be ill-advised.
It’s in the film’s final act, which seems a long time in coming, that Hunter Hunter truly becomes something memorable. There will be no spoilers here, save to say that the filmmaker cunningly keeps the narrative merely simmering until a gonzo conclusion that ranks among the more shocking scenes in cinematic history as an accumulation of tragedies transforms Anne from someone who weeps at the killing of a rabbit into an instrument of revenge who would inspire Hannibal Lecter’s admiration.
There’s a bait-and-switch quality to this, to be sure, with the film at first coming across like a fairly conventional and not particularly distinctive survival thriller before lurching into Grand Guignol-style horror. But it works, thanks to the filmmaker’s exacting skill at providing his slow-burn setup, abetted by the unsettling sound effects and intense musical score. The performances are all fine, with Sawa and Stahl providing forceful presences. But Sullivan is particularly memorable, delivering the sort of galvanizing, physically and emotionally demanding turn that would be of the star-making variety if Hunter Hunter were to be seen by a wide audience. That’s unlikely, but it’s safe to say that anyone who does see the film won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.
Available in theaters and digital formats
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Production companies: Julijette, MarVista Entertainment, Particular Crowd
Cast: Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, Devon Sawa, Nick Stahl, Gabriel Daniels, Lauren Cochrane
Director-screenwriter: Shawn Linden
Producers: Juliette Hagopian, Shawn Linden, Neil Elman
Executive producers: Fernando Szew, Tony Vassiliadis, Hannah Pillemer, Jennifer Westin, Peter Bevan, Mariana Sanjurjo, Tomás Yankelevich
Director of photography: Greg Nicod
Production designer: Chad Giesbrecht
Costume designer: Sandy Soke
Editors: Chad Tremblay, John Gurdebeke
Composer: Kevon Cronin
Casting: Nancy Foy, Jim Heber
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