Life can be hard, and it’s sometimes so because of choices we make along the way. Other times, though, our challenges come at the discretion of outside forces. The trick is choosing wisely, learning from your mistakes, and knowing when to call it quits. Hunter Hunter offers up a survival thriller about a family caught in the crosshairs of poor decisions, bad luck, and the wrath of nature’s cruelest design.
Joseph (Devon Sawa) has chosen a difficult life, in part, as a way of minimizing the control and influence of others. “You’re scared of people,” says his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan), and if it’s true it might just be the only thing that terrifies him. He’s raising their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) in his stead — the three live off the grid, deep in the Canadian forest, and she’s learning to track, trap, and hunt prey, and to live off the land well beyond the boundaries of civilized society. For all he’s teaching her, though, it might not be enough when a hungry wolf and a wounded stranger enter their neck of the woods.
Writer/director Shawn Linden delivers a somber tale of encroaching terror with Hunter Hunter, and from the title onward the film’s theme is clear — there’s always something or someone higher up the food chain, something deadlier and far more vicious than you, and your best bet is to stay downwind. It could be the impersonal feel of hunger and concern for your family, or it could be a lone wolf looking for an easy meal. There are definitely some familiar beats here early on, but the film, like its characters, makes choices that result in unexpected carnage and horror. Real talk… this ending is going to sit with you for a while.
At just over ninety minutes, the film moves at an intentionally staggered pace. Fits of ratcheting tension trade off with slower, more meandering sequences capturing the steady flow of life lived in tune with nature. Those latter sequences threaten to overtake the film’s second act at times, especially once the obvious dangers have been introduced — the wolf is an unusual predator for this area, and it’s clear both Anne and Renee are scared of it. Joseph’s concern about people, meanwhile, is validated when he finds a kill site with several bound, gagged, and murdered women grouped together in the woods.
The family is soon divided by geography as Joseph heads out to hunt the predators in their midst, but it’s their differing views on life and their future that lend the film an air of tragedy. He’s threatened by things beyond his control, and he refuses to accept the possibility that he might not be able to protect and provide for his family. Anne, however, just wants a better and easier life for their daughter, but while she works hard for the life they’ve chosen she’s unable to fight for the life she wants. Events force her hand, though, and soon all she has left is the fight.
The ingredients are here for a traditional enough survival thriller, but Hunter Hunter goes in some unexpected directions on its way to a terrific and grimly powerful finale. Linden offers up threats but leaves viewers unsure which will strike and when. One sequence early on captures that sharp uncertainty well as the film cuts between Joseph on the hunt, Renee retracing her steps back to the cabin, and Anne carrying water from a not close enough stream — all three feel a rising fear, and the tension increases through the edits, Kevin Cronin’s intense score, and the palpable terror on their faces. The performances lend themselves to the environment as well with Sawa giving an austere turn as a man struggling to hold his family and lifestyle together while Sullivan offers up a fragility on the verge of cracking.
There are some stumbles including dodgy optical fx involving a wolf and the unbelievable detail that Anne has never cleaned a deer despite living off the land for years, but enough works in Hunter Hunter to make for an effective and somewhat nihilistic look at the animal within us all. We’re easily spooked by things moving in the dark, but it turns out we’re just as capable of becoming the monster ourselves.