Synopsis: A family living in the remote wilderness believe they are being hunted by the return of a rogue wolf. Determined to catch the predator in the act, the father leaves his family behind to track the wolf. When a severely injured stranger shows up and the longer the father is away, the more the idea of a mysterious predator in the woods slowly becomes a threat much closer to home.
Stars: Camille Sullivan, Devon Sawa, Nick Stahl, Summer H. Howell, Gabriel Daniels, Lauren Cochrane, Blake Taylor, Karl Thordarson, Erik Athavale, Jade Michael
Director: Shawn Linden
Running Length: 94 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: There I was, just minding my own business, enjoying Hunter Hunter and thinking what a great year IFC Midnight has had in the realm of selecting superior horror/thrillers to release under their banner and that’s when it happened. The ending. The jaw-dropping, you can’t believe it, did that happen, yes it did, I am now an old man, I need a cookie, wow wow wowza of a finale.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself so let’s put on the brakes on circle back to the beginning.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live “off the grid” without the modern comforts I’ve grown so accustomed to…and then I watch movies like Hunter Hunter and realize I’m totally fine where I am and how that life is not for me. No judgement on those that do and more mighty power to them, I just know that I’d be an insufferable person to live with in that situation, mostly just from lack of knowledge of the outside world. That sense of being cut-off is the first thing that sets a mood in writer/director Shawn Linden’s horror mystery that is shrouded in shadow and is best to know as little as possible about before diving headfirst into. Have no worries, I won’t spoil any more of it than what you’d already know had you read a synopsis and what I’ve already said about the ending isn’t a tip off either, any review you read is going to allude to what Linden has in store for viewers at the end of this entertaining trip into a dark wilderness.
A family of three reside in a remote cabin and make their living through the hunting and trapping of animals, selling their fur and using the rest for sustenance. It’s a life that Joseph (Devon Sawa, Disturbing the Peace) and Anne (Camille Sullivan) have chosen for themselves but not one their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) had any kind of say in. Though Renee has taken to the routine of their lives and enjoys learning the work from her father, Anne knows the world that is out there and wonders if she is keeping her home-schooled daughter away from a better opportunity than she can offer. As another tough winter begins to draw near, she readies a plan to propose to Joseph that they consider buying a real home in town…but everything comes to a standstill when the presence of a returning rogue wolf puts the family on high alert.
Realizing the only way to catch the large animal is to track it on its own territory, Joseph sets off with no plans to return until he has cleared the forest of this particular danger once and for all. Soon after he leaves, an injured man (Nick Stahl) appears seeking shelter and first aid, both of which Anne is able to offer him. By opening her small home to this man and without Joseph around, it’s up to Anne to determine if the biggest trouble is coming from the woods nearby or is sleeping in the bedroom next to her. There’s more that’s been revealed in the movie before this that I’ve deliberately left out (and thankfully, so have the trailers), all adding to an escalating game of cat and mouse that becomes more unpredictable the longer it plays out. Surprises are in store for the viewer and the characters, all making for an edge-of-your-seat watch.
Linden has crafted a fine film with interesting characters and a unique setting that allows a believable sense of isolation without outside electronic interference. He introduces images or sequences that may not make sense at first but wind-up fitting together in a puzzle that you eventually see was being put together from the get-go as part of a larger game and it’s all nicely filmed by Greg Nicod’s chilly cinematography. Performances rank high as well, with former teen heartthrobs Sawa and Stahl roughing it up (Stahl in particular looks like he’s lived a life over the past decade) in roles well-suited for them. Howell plays the naivete of her character with a sweet curiosity rather than coming off simple, no one in the movie ever is sketched as being “backwoods” in the least. I also liked Lauren Cochrane and Gabriel Daniels as a set of rangers that enter the orbit of the cabin and the surrounding forest in surprising ways.
The VIP of Hunter Hunter is most surely Sullivan in a towering performance as a wife and mother pushed to a breaking point, first as a potential target of a vicious animal and then holding down the fort while her husband is away with a strange, injured man in her home. Sullivan has an even keel to her acting and it works wonders for keeping the viewer engaged and going along for the ride with her, even when she’s not on screen. She’s also a part of that aforementioned ending that is bound to leave you mouth agape with the audacity of the filmmakers in “going there”. Again, it’s not a spoiler because I was told the same thing before I saw the movie and, even knowing it was coming, I still wasn’t prepared. Bravo and kudos to Linden for pulling off what he envisioned and to Sullivan for going along with what must have sounded nuts on paper.
The bloody cherry on top of IFC Midnight’s absolutely stellar year of film, Hunter Hunter joins the ranks of The Wretched, Relic, Sputnik, Centigrade, Rent-A-Pal, & Kindred as some of the best offerings in the horror/thriller genre in 2020. This is a studio that knows its audience and knows its brand and in a year where so many things were off the mark or in a strange new place of adjustment, IFC Midnight very much found smooth sailing in scary waters.