Slow-burn movies tend to work in one of two ways. They’re either A.) All build up with little to no payoff (No thank you!) or B.) Lots of build up with an explosive conclusion that rewards patient viewers (Yes please!). “Hunter Hunter” (now available on VOD) fits firmly in column B and it’s not about the president elect’s son’s laptop –in fact it’s much scarier than any conservative witch hunt.
Joseph Mersault (former Bop cover boy Devon Sawa), his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) are living a hard life off the grid. They’re fur trappers living off the land and in a cabin passed through three generations of Joseph’s family. They fear a rogue wolf is hunting them when trappings are being absconded from their traps. Joseph leaves Anne and Renee behind to track, hunt and kill the wolf. During Joseph’s absence Anne finds the injured Lou (Nick Stahl) in the woods and invites him into their home in order to nurse him back to health.
I don’t want to say much else about the plot as it’s pretty simple and takes some wild turns in the third act. I expected this to be a Sawa vehicle as he’s arguably the biggest name of the bunch and appeared prominently in much of the marketing materials, but it’s really not. This is inarguably Sullivan’s show and she’s mesmerizing in it. She plays much of her role quietly with steely reserve, but when she’s called upon to emote she really goes there. Sullivan is a Canadian actress and this is a Canadian production, but she hadn’t registered with me prior to now. I’ll certainly remember her from here on out.
Sawa does an admirable job with what he’s given. Worlds away from his Tiger Beat days, he cuts a tough, terse, chain-smoking figure here. It’s also good to see Stahl again. I’ve been a fan of this dude’s since his childhood work in Mel Gibson’s directorial debut “The Man Without a Face,” through playing the titular role in Larry Clark’s “Bully” and all the way up to more mainstream efforts such as his unfairly maligned portrayal of John Connor in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and as the dastardly Yellow Bastard in “Sin City.” Stahl doesn’t look great here (he’s gone missing in Los Angeles’ skid row before and has a history of substance abuse), but his appearance suits the role and he plays it well. I genuinely hope this is a comeback of sorts for the talented actor.
“Hunter Hunter” is written and directed by Shawn Linden, features cinematography by first-time feature lenser Greg Nicod and is edited by John Gurdebecke and Chad Tremblay. These craftsmen have collaborated to make a movie I won’t soon shake. The way Nicod shoots something as simple as Anne making a supply run is incredibly visually dynamic. Gurdebecke and Tremblay’s editing of the conclusion ratchets tension to almost intolerable levels. I’d encourage the squeamish, most vegetarians and those who hate to see harm come to animals to skip “Hunter Hunter.” In spite of and perhaps because of this – it’s one of the best and most effecting horror films of 2020.