There is a lot to be said for a movie that finishes with a bang. As the building tension of the third act draws to a close it is the filmmaker’s final opportunity to leave a lasting impression. Who could forget Sixth Sense’s twist, The T-800’s thumbs up, Carrie’s reach from the grave, Brody’s ‘smile you son of a bitch’ and subsequent barrel swim back to shore after reuniting with Hooper? Stick the landing and that last opportunity to connect with the audience can go a long way. That memory of the closing minutes and seconds are the last piece of connecting tissue for the viewer, one that if done right, doesn’t break away. How many movies have left a sour taste, after two or something hours of world building, to eventually fall at the last hurdle? A good ending can make an average movie great, while a poor finale can potentially ruin a great one. 2020’s Hunter Hunter then, is a strange beast. Director Shawn Lindel’s mixture of thriller and horror – whilst likely polarising – does not fail to leave a mark, but it could well be the exposing downfall of the rest of the movie.
Beginning with a relatively simple premise as Devon Sawa of Final Destination (2000) and the criminally underappreciated Idle Hands (1999) and Camile Sullivan (The Man in the High Castle) live with their daughter Summer H. Howell (Curse of Chucky, 2013) in the remote wilderness. The family, struggling to get by making a living as fur trappers, encounter a wolf, one that they appear to have met before. The animal seems to have caused them some trouble in the past and has returned, much to the horror of the recluse trio. After Mersault (Sawa) take’s Renee (Howell) out to teach her the tricks of fur trapping, they discover the remnants of a wolf kill and there the tension begins. Renee is sent home and off goes Mersault on the hunt. Once she arrives back at the cabin, she and her mother discover the injured Lou played by Nick Stahl of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Sin City (2005) and try their best to nurse him back to health. All the while the potential threat of the wolf stalking them looms in background.
Seems simple enough so far right? But that is not entirely the case as the film progresses. Around the halfway point there is a reveal and it is here that a real investment into what is unfolding onscreen occurs. Unfortunately it may be too little too late for some. The first third of the movie plods as if wading through molasses. It is bleak from the offset, and this bleakness gathers weight and gives way to a shocker of an ending. One which is likely to polarise the experience for some. It is certainly difficult to watch and extremely unsettling, but it certainly stays with you. Although, with an ending so full of event, it is a tonal shift and a change in pace, in comparison to the rest of the movie and due to this feels a little disjointed. That is not to say the first two thirds of the movie are bad, but they fail to match the intensity of the ending by a substantial margin. It derails the steady momentum of the rest of the feature. As the credits roll, and the shock subsides, you can’t help but think of what the effects of tightening the tension earlier in the movie may have had. It seems as though Linden had the idea for the ending first and wrote the film retrospectively. It appears as though the finale was writer/director Linden’s raison d’être and it is difficult to shake this feeling. The macabre close of the movie leaves a bitter taste, not just because of its grizzly events, but also because it makes the rest of the movie seem so hollow.
Linden sets out to make a fairy tale focusing on predators and the wilderness the family inhabit is beautifully shot with care and finesse. The small group of actors too, are solid and the central family are especially believable as they grow increasingly desperate. Devon Sawa is on form as the grizzled patriarch with the thousand-yard stare. It is just a shame he doesn’t get more screen time. Nick Stahl, once he finally makes his appearance, is on typical creepy empty eyed form. But it is a performance that is far too familiar from him. To discuss the plot in greater detail would spoil far too much. The twists are shocking yet allow for ambiguity, which feels fresh and brave. Linden chose not to give the audience every tiny morsal of exposition. This allows the imagination to run wild after the movie’s run time, and like the fairy tales Linden is channelling, the viewer is left to take from it what they will. Filling in the missing pieces is sometimes part of the fun, and this is true of Hunter Hunter.
It is unfortunate then that Hunter Hunter is a mixed bag and as a result is a disjointed experience that, despite the shocking ending, is too slowly paced and bleak to recommend. Whilst the performances and technical delivery are all solid enough, they cannot save a meandering first hour. The ending exposes the shortcomings of the rest of the film and is not enough to elevate it beyond a dark and slowly paced experience with an explosively twisted and grisly finale.
IN SELECT THEATRES, ON DIGITAL & ON DEMAND – DECEMBER 18, 2020