Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Hunter Hunter (2020)

Warning: even though I am avoiding quite a few obvious spoilers here, some structural spoilage is unavoidable!

Joseph (Devon Sawa), his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) live somewhere in the deepest American wilderness, existing on the proceeds of trapping, hunting and gathering, selling furs in the closest town to buy necessities they can’t get in their own private middle of nowhere. Apparently, this is how Joseph’s family has lived for at least three generations, and Anne has entered into this cruel and hard existence with open eyes out of love.

Things are getting even harder for the family these days, though, for the fur prizes are dropping, and the world is changing ever further from a place that would allow for their kind of marginal existence. In Anne’s eyes, it’s time to move on and change their way of living, if only for Renee’s sake. Joseph clearly won’t be easy to talk around to her point of view. The problem will need to take a backseat anyway. The family has even more dire problems right now, for a wolf has decided to use their trap lines as easy sources of food. Joseph won’t accept any help from the outside world (which won’t be all too willing to provide it when push comes to shove anyway), so he starts hunting the wolf on his own. Eventually, he will not only find the wolf, but other, even more dangerous things, and Anne will be the one having to protect her daughter from them.

That’s about as much as I want to delve into plot spoiler territory when it comes to Shawn Linden’s impressive Hunter Hunter. I am going to add that this is indeed a horror movie and not the survivalist backwoods drama the description might suggest, with a final couple of scenes of immense harshness.

Most of the film’s virtues are easily praised without detailing too much of its sparse (that’s a descriptor, not a judgement) plot anyway, for, even though said plot is indeed well constructed, the film really lives from its strong sense of characterisation and its mood of isolation, dread, and the sadness of people who realize their lives have ended up in a dead end.

Linden – with help from his strong cast, certain beside the family also including excellent performances by Nick Stahl, Gabriel Daniels and Lauren Cochrane – is very, very good at creating depth of character out of pretty sparse dialogue, telling visual details he doesn’t need to point out to the audience directly, facial expressions, and body language, drawing the characters (and these goes for some of the minor characters as well) and their relationships precisely without explaining them, trusting the audience to understand the cues he provides, and lets his actors provide.

The film works the same way at creating its mood, giving cues, showing things, never expositing what the filmmakers are so good at showing. Up until the very end, the film shows this deep trust in its actors and its audience, so that the latter will follow it into a finale that goes full French 00s horror on us, with a gore set piece that has to be seen to believed, just after it has rightly shied away from showing something just as horrible through anything but Sullivan’s face. Unlike a lot of those French movies, the film has worked for its freak-out by its calmness before it, and therefor doesn’t end up in cartoon territory, ending as well judged as it began.

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