Every now and then, I go into a film completely blind. Blind to the trailer, blind to the writer and director, I shield myself from promotional materials and most importantly, critical reception. By practicing this, I come away from a film without the expectation of quality or pointing out what a peer of mine has said about it. By closing myself off from all the noise, I can experience a film on its own terms and not external influences...
...I employed this method during my viewing of Jordan Downey’s new film, The Head Hunter, and I am oh, so glad I did.
This film, produced by Bryane Studios and Detention Films, tells the simple, yet engrossing story of a lone warrior on a plight to avenge the death of his daughter. The unnamed protagonist played by Christopher Rygh, lost his daughter to an unspecified predator creature by way of a brutal mauling. We bare witness to his mission and purpose to rid his surrounding land of the beastly species and ensure the soul of his daughter gains passage to the afterlife.
Let me start off by saying, this might not be a film for ‘everyone,’ but it’s certainly a film for me. Jordan Downey takes a bold approach to the narrative and structure of this film by giving us one and only one character for the entire film. I know people, (unfortunately,) who would be immediately turned off by that, but it works in such a way here, that this story wouldn’t work any other way. You could argue that the inclusion of his daughter, played by Cora Kaufman, competes with my previous statement about there being one character, but we’re graced with her presence for less than a minute. Being that this is a film with one character, it’s only fitting that there is a lack of dialogue. Occasionally, our warrior will speak to himself or to his daughter at the gravesite, but this is a near silent film in terms of dialogue. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a quiet film, though, as the warrior is surrounded by life and movement in the deep forest. It’s quite the audio/visual treat as the trees breathe with the wind in long, indulgent takes of the forestry and horizon stretching landscapes. I was surprised to discover the film was shot in more than a few different locations, as the story seemingly takes place in one area. Filming locations include Braganca Portugal, Norway and Mammoth Lakes, California. Cinematographer Kevin Stewart, and the location scouters did an outstanding job here and should be recognized for their work.
Christopher Rygh carries this film on his back as a rough, tough and down and dirty man of the mountains. Thankfully for the viewer, he ends up being much more than a beefy killing machine. The grief and heartache, coupled with stern commitment, discipline and purpose is balanced extremely well with his character. What could have been a one dimensional meat sack ends up being a character who kept me sympathetic to his situation and not in a manipulative, Hollywood kind of way. My one complaint with his character relates to the film’s abnormally short running time, clocking in at a brisk 72 minutes. I think the brevity of the film is fine in terms of pacing, but I would have liked to see his character fleshed out just a bit more, as I became attached to know more about him. The ambiguity of the rest of the film, however, is what makes this tale work. The creatures are used in a ‘less is more’ kind of way and it works beautifully. We never see the creatures in full form. We see the heads that our warrior impales on his trophy wall, and that alone is effective in presenting their frightening potential. We’re given virtually no exposition or world building and I was surprised at my affinity for this aspect, as a self-proclaimed lore nut. Not knowing where we are, when we are and what exactly our warrior is up against creates a more classy, less hokey story that is more about character, intent and imagery, rather than funny sounding fantasy names, continents and towns to memorize and a codex of lore to geek out over. It’s anti high fantasy, anti operatic structure lends itself to a refreshing experience.
Technically, The Head Hunter is magnificent. I can tell you with certainty that they knew what they were doing when filming this. Picture quality is only as good as what you shoot and this film, as stated previously, has some incredible vistas to show off. Music, composed by Nick Soole, is used with an appropriate, minimalistic approach. Creature effects and design by Troy Smith, are very impressive and while you never see the full form of the creature, you do see horrifying stuff, and it’s the perfect stimulation to create what’s missing with our imaginations.
The Head Hunter is one of the best horror films I’ve seen all year. It managed to blend man versus monster elements from The Predator (1987,) and small but, powerful cast based films like, The Witch (2015.) Likening it to other great films doesn’t do it justice, though. This is a film all its own and should be commended for doing so much with such a short running time and one character. I can’t imagine watching this any other way than alone and going in blind, absent of expectation. Nothing is more bothersome than becoming engaged in a film, only to have someone next to you sigh out of boredom, or audibly present their shallow judgements. I encourage everyone who has appreciation for film to go in blind more frequently. To me, it makes a good experience even richer. We’re also able to really let the film wash over us with a clean palette. I can’t recommend The Head Hunter enough and it is one that I look forward to revisiting on Blu-Ray.
The Head Hunter storms onto Shudder December 5th from Vertical Entertainment.
By Jeffrey Hollingsworth