In Shawn Linden’s latest film HUNTER HUNTER, a family living in the remote wilderness earning a living as fur trappers struggle to make ends meet while their traps are being hunted by the return of a rogue wolf. Determined to catch the predator in the act, Joseph (Devon Sawa) leaves his family behind to track the wolf. Anne (Camille Sullivan) and Renée (Summer H. Howell) grow increasingly anxious during Joseph’s prolonged absence and struggle to survive without him. When they hear a strange noise outside their cabin, Anne hopes it is Joseph but instead finds a man named Lou (Nick Stahl), who has been severely injured and left for dead. The longer Lou stays and Joseph is away, the more paranoid Anne becomes, and the idea of a mysterious predator in the woods slowly becomes a threat much closer to home.
Prior to the release of the film, I had the opportunity to speak with writer/director Shawn Linden about his thrilling survival horror film. During the interview, Linden and I chatted about everything from the genesis of the story to the challenges faced filming in the wilderness.
How did this story of survival come to be? What was the genesis for this thriller?
Shawn Linden: The story had a lot of inspirations during its 13-year road to getting made. I’ve always considered it to be a fairy tale about predators, so the old Grimm-era fables were an influence. Movies with WTF endings like the Dutch Vanishing and Audition were always on my mind. The main ideas for the story were plotted out one weekend in 2007, coming home from a European film festival.
The majority of this film takes place in the wilderness where we see our characters really partaking in living a life off-the-grid. What type of research or help did you give the actors to better understand their character’s living situation?
Shawn Linden: Camille, Devon, and Summer were ultra-dedicated from the very start to maintaining a real sense of authenticity, a sense of familiarity with their daily routine, and how that everyday experience would color their personalities. One big advantage to being a writer-director is that you become the best possible resource for the story, to provide the performers with a starting point for discussion for any kind of question or issue that comes up. They took it from there, and really came together as a family unit without much need for my help.
I enjoyed the slow-build of tension throughout the film’s runtime. You know something bad is going to happen, you don’t know when or how. Can you talk about the process of building that tension?
Shawn Linden: I’m glad that came through, because the intention was to have a gradual pace that never stops rising in general tension, right up to a cathartic ending. Hopefully, every moment in the movie is always more tense than the moment that preceded it, right up until the very last moments of the film.
A lot of it is what you don’t show, and leaving the audience to fill in the blanks themselves. It’s not a vague kind of confusion that permeates every part of the movie – it’s more surgical and deliberate, so there’s always some clarity to hang onto. But it’s that clarity that does the most damage when it’s upended. It’s also a lot of fun to play with showing things to the audience that the characters aren’t aware of – it can be deceptive or revelatory depending on how it’s used.
What was it like working in the wilderness and what type of challenges did you all face?
Shawn Linden: It was really tough, but that’s a big part of what made it such a meaningful experience. Nature is harsh and full of danger in this story, so we had to go out to those harsh places that were hard to reach. We often worked and lived with no running water, no electricity, no way to easily transport equipment. If it weren’t for the talents and total dedication from the shooting crew, production could have ended at any moment. Also, a freak snowstorm on our last week that stripped every single tree in the forest of its beautiful leaves, and put two of our crew members in the hospital. That was tough.
Can you talk a little bit about the incredible practical effects you used for the film?
Shawn Linden: Our FX supervisor has been attached to [this] project for years – he was just as eager to get it made as I was, and I think that enthusiasm really shows in their work. There was never a question of using practical effects for any of our stuff. The teams’ biggest job was all the corpses, animal and otherwise. It’s a real testament to their skill that nothing ever takes you out of the story because it doesn’t look real.
HUNTER HUNTER is now in select theaters, on digital & On Demand. For more on the film, check out our review here.