Written by: Matt Patti | December 17th, 2020
Hunter Hunter (Shawn Linden, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Fur trappers living in present-day society have an intriguing but sometimes terrifying life. Being out in the wild, away from civilization, has its advantages but comes with many challenges, especially in today’s modern world. There are the obvious dangers of wild animals and absence of modern conveniences, but there’s also a lack of support from local law enforcement. Director Shawn Linden’s thriller Hunter Hunter explores these struggles and the difficult life of the Mersaults, a family of trappers that live in the remote wilderness and make their living by selling meat to the nearest town.
The film begins with Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa, The Fanatic) and his daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) out in the woods, setting traps for wildlife. Renee is quite good at fur-trapping and embraces it, carefully trained by her father. They find that one of their previous traps has caught something, but only a lone piece of leg remains. Renee proclaims simply, “It’s back.” They return to their remote house and give wife and mother Anne Mersault (Camille Sullivan) the news: that they believe a wolf that has troubled the family in the past is back. Anne is distraught and believes the family is in danger. Struggling to put food on the table already, and now with a rogue wolf stealing their catches, Joe promises to deal with the wolf and save the family business. He goes out on his own, leaving his family behind, to hunt down the troublemaker, but soon finds that there’s more out in the woods than he bargained for.
The filmmakers do a great job of exploring their characters in detail and developing them well, even if it’s much more in the early part of the film than the latter half. The family dynamic of the Mersaults is an intriguing one. Joe is a great hunter who knows how to live off the land and enjoys the lifestyle. His wife, Anne, however, wishes for a life in civilization, where their daughter Renee can be a normal girl and go to school and meet other people her age. Joe is stubborn, however, and refuses to change the family’s ways. Renee, meanwhile, enjoys their life and has become quite the good fur-trapper herself. This strange clashing of wants and needs leads to some conflict but ultimately the family works together to survive, especially in rough times.
Director Linden masterfully builds tension and suspense throughout the film, and often leaves the viewer guessing. The family’s reaction to knowing that the wolf is back tells the audience how big of a threat it is, though it remains a mystery throughout most of the film how dangerous the wolf can be and how hard it might be to kill. However, the greatest source of suspense in the film comes not from the wolf, but from the unexpected other elements the family faces in the woods. Without giving anything away, Joe and his family soon realize when hunting for the wolf that there are other threats out there that may equal … or surpass … that of the wolf. Discovering these other threats, paired with a thrilling, threatening score, sends chills down the viewer’s spine. The use of location and top-notch cinematography also enhances the twists and turns and the overall frightening atmosphere of the film.
Unfortunately, Hunter Hunter has a strange shift of main character about halfway through the film that drags it down a bit. We begin the film with one character, who we believe will be our central protagonist throughout; however the focus of the film moves to another character about halfway through in an unexpected turn that gives this second character more screen time. It could work fine, logistically, but the issue lies in the fact that the other character, and their prerogatives, are much more interesting than this second character and their actions. Therefore, when that first character gets less screen time, the film naturally loses steam. Also, while the film has many unexpected twists and turns, once one specific event happens the film becomes quite predictable, all the way up until the very end which has one more shocking moment in store for us. The film’s conclusion is dark, disturbing, and will haunt the viewer for a while afterward … even this horror fan who thinks he’s seen it all. I’d even argue that it is a bit too off-putting and is not quite in line with the tone of the rest of the film. However, it is definitely astonishing and memorable.
Overall, Hunter Hunter is an effective wilderness-based horror-thriller. The film features quality performances, compelling characters, a commanding build of suspense, and enough twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing, even if they’ve figured out some of the major plot points halfway through the run time. Although it would be more enthralling if it gave its beginning main character more screen time, and the ending is more unsettling than expected, Hunter Hunter exceeds expectations otherwise and provides exceptional suspense elements and character moments. After viewing this film, many would never consider becoming a fur trapper and living in the remote wilderness, but would gain much respect and admiration for those who do so.