Hunter Hunter had been on my radar for some time; it was one of those Indie films which had garnered a lot of hushed attention via social media users due to word of mouth proclaiming it to have one of the most shocking endings in recent Indie cinema memory.
They were not wrong.
Hunter Hunter is a Canadian/ US production starring Devon Sawa of ‘Final Destination’ fame, former child actor Nick Stahl, Camille Sullivan and, Summer H. Howell respectively.
The plot focusses on a family of fur trappers living in the remote wilderness of Canada where food and money is scarce and, human populace scarcer still.
Stoic father Joseph mentors his tomboy daughter Renee, teaching her all the skills necessary to survive in such unforgiving conditions.
The pair hold a strong, silent bond as they hunt and, forage together in the vastness of the surrounding woods.
Joseph is of the philosophy that people equate danger and so, he has relocated his family within the vast unknown of primal woodland where their routine is structured around the basest of human desires- survival.
Unfortunately, something else stalks the forest surrounding the family cabin; a wolf whose own desperation pushes him to venture closer to one of the few warm food sources- Joseph’s family.
The Survivalists continue to find jarring evidence of the wolf’s presence, namely that their traps have been emptied.
The Pinemartens which provide the family with both sustenance and trade are being scavenged by the increasingly desperate and confident predator- the Hunters quickly become prey to the monsters of the forest and, sadly the wolf is the least of their worries.
Hunter Hunter is one of those films which cleverly subverts our expectations; it had many of us believing that this was yet another played out ‘wolf movie’ when in fact, the story’s core is of a different genre entirely.
Hunger exacerbates the tightly wound familial dynamics with Joseph convincing his wife Anne to stay home with Renee while he ventures out to stalk and kill the wolf himself.
Joseph imparts to Anne and Renee that not only is their impending wolf dangerous but that he also displays characteristics not entirely typical of these wild animals.
Joseph’s wolf is bold, aggressive and unrelenting however, his behaviours include mutilations not commonly attributed to North American wolves.
I described Hunter Hunter to my partner as the perfect post-Lockdown film during a time when many city dwellers were choosing to relocate to more rural, remote areas in order to escape the escalating madness of people’s paranoid, self-serving actions.
With Joseph out in the unforgiving wilderness searching for his lupine stalker using only walkie-talkies for communication, Anne and Renee must tough it out at home with the impressively capable daughter showing her mother the basics of hunting, skinning and gutting animals for food.
Meanwhile in the wilderness, we are privy to the wolf’s gory trail of dead when Joseph stumbles upon a clearing in the forest where a group of mutilated, naked women are strewn across rocks, bound to trees in a ritualistic manner.
Joseph disappears and does not return at daybreak, nor does he break radio silence, leaving his increasingly frightened wife and child close to starvation without his hunter/ gatherer expertise.
Woken from sleep by the sounds of wailing, Anne rushes out into the gloom of trees in a panic, desperately searching, hoping for her husband’s safe return…instead, she finds an injured stranger.
The internal struggle within Anne is palpable; should she help this bleeding man or, simply leave him for the elements to claim?
Sometimes all it takes is for one rash decision to decimate the course of our lives forever; Lou is the harbinger of this family’s decimation.
Nick Stahl gives an impressive performance as Lou; instantly likeable yet with something dark simmering beneath the surface of his façade.
Hunter Hunter flows effortlessly, weaving it’s various ruses, character growth arcs and, seething slow burn atmosphere throughout a tale thin on plot yet stuffed with shocking revelations, red herrings and solid acting from grounded characters.
Stylistically, the film anchors it’s aesthetics in the barren grey landscapes of the Canadian Wilderness.
The vast open skies become choked with treeline the deeper we venture into the woods alongside Joseph; this film perfectly captures that feeling of being alongside these characters.
We fantasise what it would be like if we chose to live this way; would we feel stimulated or abandoned trying to raise a family free of the trappings of big cities?
Hunter Hunter perfectly encapsulates the intensity of choosing between personal morals and survival; of choosing between two worlds of dark or, light.
Much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Hunter Hunter creeps into our comfort zone before attacking our senses; we are the unsuspecting herd in this analogy.
We are lulled into a false sense of security before being subjected to perhaps, the most shocking reveal of recent memory.
I adore French Extreme cinema such as Martyrs, Irreversible and Inside however, Hunter Hunter’s horrifying ending still managed to leave me feeling emotionally gutted as I did not anticipate the direction which this gem of a Thriller took.
I found myself utterly gripped by this film and, I applaud it’s ability to drift between slow burn drama and, Extreme Horror with the ease of a wolf wading through a herd of unsuspecting sheep; biding its time before striking.
Hunter Hunter is now available to watch on Sky Cinema (UK)