The term “slow burn” is often unjustly tossed around in the horror world...
...Genre films, especially over the last few decades thanks to the ‘80s, follow a similar pattern where the jumps, gore, and overall horror happen quite quick—frequently within the first few minutes of the movie. So, when a horror flick allows for time to build suspense or characters, many people immediately want to cry “slow burn”. Sometimes the phrase earns eye rolls, as certain fans associate slow burns with long drawn-out films, even going so far as to slap some of them with the dreaded “boring”. Writer/director Shawn Linden’s new film Hunter Hunter has already earned the label of “slow burn,” but do not believe everything you read. The film gets the tension rolling early on, but the fear develops from the characters’ failures and a growing sense of helplessness. A family of three lives in a tiny cabin in the middle of the woods, but don’t be fooled, the isolation does not mean the film relies entirely on psychological terror; Linden has a few traps lying in wait for you.
Beautifully shot in Winnipeg, Hunter Hunter tells the story of a family of fur traders living off the grid deep in the woods. The father, Mersault (Devon Sawa, Final Destination), possesses significant tracking and hunting skills and plans to raise their daughter Renee (Summer H Howell, Cult of Chucky) with similar abilities. The rugged survivorman capabilities of the dad and the naivete of the daughter makes the homestead a combination of something from Laura Ingalls Wilder and the ruggedness of Bear Grylls. However, the mother, Anne (Camille Sullivan, The Disappearance) does not think selling pelts will continue to sustain the family and daydreams about owning a house in town and watching her daughter attend school with other children. To make matters worse, the increasing cost of food and the dwindling need for fur creates a divide between the couple. If marital disagreements were not enough, a wolf moves in and starts filching off the traps. So, Mersault gets a bit territorial and decides to take a stand, against the wolf and against his wife.
The natural predator may not be the trappable kind, however, and soon the human hunter becomes the hunted. The remains left over from the kills become more noticeable and more human, which makes the game of cat-and-mouse a bit more one-sided. Furthermore, the rarely seen wolf finds a way to separate the weaker (Anne and Renee) from the stronger prey (Mersault). After the father disappears into the woods and out of radio range, Anne finds herself even more alone when the local police refuse to help because, technically, the trappers live in the wolf’s home. So, the typically machismo centered survival story now revolves around a mother and young daughter.
With no food, a lost husband, and an angry-ass wolf getting closer and closer to home, Sullivan’s wide-eyed stare into bleakness builds the tension as the woods and the darkness continue to close in on the small, lonely cabin. The direness keeps piling on and reaches a climax when photographer Lou, played by Nick Stahl (Carnivale, Sin City), meets the wolf and then fortunately Anne and Renee. Badly wounded and incapable of fending for himself, Stahl’s character places undue burden on the family as he consumes their much-needed food supply and acts as a shackle, not letting the family leave their home.
Hunter Hunter develops characters and builds a claustrophobic anxiety only experienced when trapped in the deep unnavigable woods. And even though the cast boasts recognizable names of Sawa and Stahl, Sullivan gives the performance to remember. With each passing day, the nights seem to last a little longer and get a bit darker which pushes Anne further into her personal horror. Her world becomes more dangerous and she must rely on herself for survival. The story hints at something deeper than what might be noticeable on first watch, but the deeper you venture into the woods, the more you might start to understand—or question—what you see. As for the title of the film, the tautology might serve as an emphasis on the word ‘hunter’ and sound like a chant, or even represent how Mersault and the wolf mirror each other. But perhaps the repetition translates to “the hunter of hunters”. A wolf is a hunter, yes, but so is a human. No spoilers here, but the nihilistic ending will leave you talking for quite a while, so just keep the idea of ‘the hunter of hunters’ in mind.
Hunter Hunter comes to select theaters, VOD and Digital from IFC Midnight on December 18th.
By Amylou Ahava