[Movie Review] HUNTER HUNTER
Courtesy of IFC Midnight

There is no place on the planet that is remote enough to escape the evil that humans are capable of committing. Writer-director Shawn Linden takes the survival thriller in a unique and shocking direction with his new film HUNTER HUNTER, which uses its dense forest setting to create a sense of paranoia and unease long before the viewer learns about the terrifying dangers in the woods. Redefining the big bad wolf, this gut punch of a film is suspenseful, unnerving, and brutal.

Joe (Devon Sawa) lives in an isolated cabin with his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and their 12-year-old daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell). Renee knows almost nothing about life outside the woods, but she is learning to become a master tracker and hunter just like her dad. The family survives by catching their own food and trading animal pelts for supplies in the nearby town, but survival is becoming more and more difficult. Food is scarce thanks to a rogue wolf that has been poaching from the family’s traps. When Joe sets out to kill the wolf, he finds far more in the woods than he bargained for, leaving Anne and Renee alone in a cabin surrounded by predators on all sides.

HUNTER HUNTER immediately establishes the threat that Joe and his family face, opening with overhead shots of the forest and nearby river that emphasize how vast and unforgiving nature can be. Scenes where Renee and Anne walk alone in the woods are terrifying in their simplicity: the tightly grouped trees sway and whisper, speaking of horrors that may be lurking behind any of the million leaves in the forest. Each rustle of a branch or snap of a twig puts the women on high alert. They can’t tell whether it’s just the wind blowing through the trees or a hungry wolf stalking them. The audience is on even higher alert, thanks to Joe’s shocking discovery and the camerawork that begs for viewers to scan the frame for danger at all times.

Devon Sawa as Mersault in the thriller/horror/suspense film HUNTER HUNTER, an IFC Midnight release | Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight.

Adding to the tension is the rift between Anne and Joe that grows deeper the older Renee gets. Anne wants to move to a house in town where their daughter will get to go to school and experience a life without the hard labor that they’re forced to perform to sustain themselves in the wilderness. Joe, on the other hand, insists that they remain completely independent and stay as far away from other people as they can. With Joe gone on his wolf hunt, Anne has to learn survival skills from Renee, though her instincts and her own knowledge kick in when they matter the most. In one of the most affecting scenes, a huge wolf approaches the women on the riverbank. Holding Renee behind her, Anne lets out a primal scream that scares the wolf away and shakes the viewer to their core. She will reprise this scream in a slightly different context later on, and it is even more riveting and devastating the second time around.

Sawa and Sullivan are fantastic in their roles, giving Joe and Anne’s relationship a complex, lived-in feel that allows them to bicker and fight without ever losing sight of the love holding them together. Howell also turns in a strong performance as the strong but sheltered Renee, and Nick Stahl is marvelously cagey as Lou, an injured man Anne finds in the woods. The stakes in HUNTER HUNTER could not be higher, and each member of the cast provides an intriguing take on their desperate need to survive.

Terrifying and surprising at every turn, HUNTER HUNTER is a story about surviving without really living. It is grim and shocking, but it earns those shocks by laying a strong foundation of moving character work. With her husband out hunting for the big bad wolf, Anne has to stay home and learn how to protect the house by herself. Unfortunately, she soon learns that wolves are always at your door and you may not recognize them until it’s too late.

HUNTER HUNTER arrives in select theaters, on digital & On Demand December 18, 2020.

Jessica Scott
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