“Captain Fantastic” meets a style-defining horror shocker from the noughties – but mentioning which film it is would raise false expectations just as much as Shawn Linden’s third feature film HUNTER HUNTER deprive it of its wow factor. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Hunter Hunter (CAN/USA 2020)
Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa), his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and their daughter Renée (Summer H. Howell) live in the remote Canadian wilderness and earn their living as fur trappers. As if their fight for survival wasn’t hard enough, one day a wolf suddenly appears in their hunting grounds. Determined to track down and kill the predator, Joseph leaves his wife and daughter back in their cabin to track down the wolf. When Anne and Renée suddenly hear a strange noise outside the door, the two women hope it is Joseph, but instead they find a seriously injured man named Lou (Nick Stahl), whom they give care of. But the longer Lou stays and Joseph is away, the more paranoid Anne becomes. And there is also the wolf who is causing mischief in the forest…
The script for Shawn Linden’s third feature film “Hunter Hunter” dates back to 2007. It took the Canadian-born man a long time to find the necessary financiers to complete his survival thriller, before his project was finally signed by the US indie label IFC Films found the appropriate sponsors. In recent years, the production company has made a name for itself by enabling a (limited) theatrical release of outlandish genre fare, selected foreign language films and documentaries; Among other things, films such as “Swallow”, “The Other Lamb” and the Corona surprise success “The Witch Next Door” aka “The Wretched” are credited to the New York City-based company. “Hunter Hunter” fits perfectly into IFC’s portfolio, because in the survival thriller, which is mostly played by just three actors, the elements of a nasty dropout drama like “Captain Fantastic” collide with set pieces from a certain terror film from the late noughties. But in order for “Hunter Hunter” to develop its full impact, it helps to know as little as possible about him in advance. We therefore appeal to the readers at this point: If you have already tasted blood after reading this short description, then simply jump straight to the conclusion. We won’t give any specific spoilers, but being completely unprepared will catch a “Hunter Hunter” even more.
Anne (Camille Sullivan) discovers signs of destruction in the forest. Do they come from a wolf?
Shawn Linden, who was also responsible for the script (“Nobody”) A form of horror unfolds in “Hunter Hunter” that is not at all tangible for a long time in the slim ninety minutes of running time. In the first half hour he devotes himself entirely to the family’s everyday life. It is a tough terrain that Joseph, Anne and Renée have to survive here, but the reward is a coexistence characterized by harmony and equality. The isolation in the Canadian wasteland is of your own choosing. Here the Mersaults live according to their own principles without having to subordinate themselves to the structures of civilization. Renée is schooled at home and her contact with people outside her family is almost nil – something that the young girl notices but has not bothered particularly much so far. Nevertheless, Linden repeatedly creates scenes of intimate exchange between the adults about their situation: Joseph and Anne are not radiated weirdos who want to build their own reality far away from civilization, but rather two people who are firmly established in life and who have good reasons , to choose a life in such isolation, but never close their eyes to the problems that they are confronted with through their hermit life.
“Shawn Linden (“Nobody”), who is also responsible for the script, creates a form of horror in “Hunter Hunter” that is not at all tangible in the slim ninety minutes of running time.”
The first time we become aware of this dangerous way of life is with the appearance of the wolf, which leaves its traces everywhere in Joseph and Anne’s hunting grounds. And it continues at the moment when Anne shows up at the local police station because her husband hasn’t been home for a while. No one there immediately responds to your request for help. After all, it’s easier to get lost in the forest than in the big city and mother and daughter should wait a little longer, their father would definitely come home soon. The restlessness of the two Mersault women can be compared to that moment on an airplane when the flight attendants suddenly become restless: As long as stewards and stewardesses remain calm during turbulence, the passengers are generally not entitled to anything fear. Only when they too become hectic and nervous does there be serious cause for concern. A similar impression is created in “Hunter Hunter” by the two normally calm Anne and Renée, who are very familiar with pretty much every problem that life in the wilderness brings with it and are not afraid to use weapons (in “Hunter Hunter”, it feels like not a scene goes by without someone holding a rifle in their hand). Even the youngest member of the family knows how to assign traces of destruction to their four-legged originator and to orientate themselves in the forest. But with Joseph’s permanent disappearance, the routine gives way to tension and paranoia.
In “Hunter Hunter” there doesn’t seem to be a single scene where anyone is carrying a weapon.
And rightly so, as viewers find out in a parallel storyline by filmmaker Shawn Linden. “Hunter Hunter” alternately tells of Anne and Renée, who wait for their husband and father, go looking for him themselves and finally make the acquaintance of the wounded Lou, and of Joseph and the reasons why he does not return to the family returns. For reasons of spoilers, we don’t want to go into the exact circumstances of his disappearance at this point. But the way Shawn Linden and his cameraman Greg Nicod manage to reverse the feeling of freedom conjured up by the forest backdrop in such a way that the unpredictability of this setting suddenly shapes the atmosphere is great cinema that makes up for the somewhat sedate middle section. Linden shows the cards relatively early on, which means that “Hunter Hunter” reaches its first climax of tension in the middle, after which the oppressive atmosphere remains constant for the time being instead of continuously increasing as before. It’s only in the final phase that Linden and his team in front of and behind the camera really turn things up a notch – and deliver a finale that the audience won’t soon forget.
“The way Shawn Linden and his cameraman Greg Nicod manage to reverse the feeling of freedom conjured up by the forest backdrop in such a way that the unpredictability of this setting suddenly comes into play is great cinema that consoles the sedate middle section.”
In the final phase of “Hunter Hunter”, the suspense, driven by a diffuse tension towards a concrete threat, culminates in a precisely formulated act of violence that expands the film’s theme to the point of excess, with which Shawn Linden automatically places himself on the list of the most radical genre filmmakers of his time Generation catapulted. While Brandon Cronenberg’s festival darling “Possessor” was hyped up into an ultra-brutal cult film in 2020, “Hunter Hunter” could do the same in 2021 if it is distributed appropriately. The physical torment carried out here is visually reminiscent of an equally famous and infamous contribution to French terrorist cinema, even if the path to it is much more martial than in the obvious model. Although we can’t really speak of a “role model” – the script for “Hunter Hunter” was, after all, already finished before this film even existed.
Conclusion: “Hunter Hunter” begins as a strongly observed study of dropouts, takes a breath in a somewhat tough middle section and explodes into a nihilistic attack on the senses in the finale. In fact, you shouldn’t know anything about the film in advance.
“Hunter Hunter” is available to rent and purchase on US VOD platforms.