I’ve written this before, but I’ve always loved watching a filmmaker work with a shoestring budget yet still tell their story and capture their vision. “The Head Hunter” from director, co-producer, co-writer, and editor Jordan Downey stands as a shining example. Said to be made for $30,000 with the tiniest of cast and crew, his film is a brilliant accomplishment.
Set in medieval times, “The Head Hunter” stars Christopher Rygh who quite literally carries the load on his shoulders. He plays a character known only as Father, a warrior tormented by the death of his daughter by an unseen monster. “I always thought I could protect her” he painfully mutters in a brief memory flashback. It’s literally one of the few lines of dialogue in the entire picture. We never see his tragic loss, only the painful aftereffects.
He spends his days as a creature of habit, piddling around his remote cabin awaiting the sound of a distant horn that summons him to kill a beast. Afterwards he mounts the heads of the slain on his wall, not as a trophy but as a reminder that the monster who killed his daughter is still out there. It fills the emptiness inside of him with the only thing that can – a deep-seeded hunger for revenge. And neither he or his daughter can rest in peace until the beast is put down.
During the film’s first half we watch this grief-stricken father grimly go about his day. But within his routine are nuggets of information. We learn he gets paid for his work but has no interest in the money, only vengeance. We watch him concoct grotesque healing potions. We see him make poignant visits to his daughter’s grave. It all leads to the second half where his blood-thirst flirts with madness.
“The Head Hunter” can be best described as pure visual storytelling. Downey and cinematographer Kevin Stewart (who also serves as co-writer and co-producer) put a heavy emphasis on atmosphere. Their fantastic use of lighting, shadows, and camera perspectives feed into the film’s dark and sometimes macabre vibe. Portugal provides most of the location shots, some of which are nothing short of stunning.
Without question “The Head Hunter” is a bleak and at times gruesome movie. Yet within this rich slice of fantasy horror is a subtle meditation on grief. The story is a tragedy of sorts placed within a relentlessly harsh and despairing world. And the filmmakers stick with this vision. Clocking in at a lean 72 minutes, they avoid the temptation to pad the run time with pointless and frivolous filler. This keeps the film tight, focused, and utterly enthralling.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS