Shawn Linden’s “Hunter Hunter” wasn’t at all what I expected. Its crafty advertising sells a deep woods thriller about a wolf terrorizing a wilderness family. To be fair that is a big part of the movie. But as the film sets your eyes in one direction it then broadsides you with a story full of deeper human themes. Oh, and it caps it all off with an unforgettable ending that will leave your jaw on the floor. And that’s no exaggeration.
“Hunter Hunter” is about a a family living off the grid deep in an unspecified forest. They live off the land, mostly hunting and trading furs for supplies. It’s a life that suits the father Joe (Devon Sawa) and is accepted by the mother Anne (Camille Sullivan). But their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) is born into it and given no choice but to learn how to survive. That weighs on a guilt-ridden Anne who begins to think they would be better off giving up their life of isolation and moving into town. “We don’t run from our problems,” Joe growls.
While out checking traps Joe and Renee find evidence that a ravenous wolf has returned to their area. Joe not only sees it as a threat to his family but to the secluded life he has chosen. He becomes obsessed with the wolf and sets out to hunt it down, leaving Anne and Renee to fend for themselves until he returns. A few grisly discoveries later makes it clear that this is more than a simple ‘man versus beast’ story. And when Anne loses radio contact with Joe, she becomes the one who must protect what matters the most – her daughter.
Linden, who serves as both writer and director, carves a surprisingly layered story out of a premise that seems pretty simple on its surface. I won’t dare spoil anything, but let’s just say he introduces some terrifying elements into the story that ups the intensity and adds this unnerving sense of dread that hangs over the final act. Camille Sullivan really emerges in the second half, putting the film on her back and giving a forceful and committed performance. And that ending. Linden goes all-in with an unsettling finish that feels exactly right for what he’s going for.
“Hunter Hunter” is a movie that quietly lures you in by building an interesting family dynamic worth investing in. The characters feel authentic which makes their tense and eventually frightening story resonate. Shawn Linden uses the setting’s beauty to hide something sinister while delving into some unsettling human themes that gives his movie a surprising kick. “Hunter Hunter” is now streaming on VOD.
VERDICT – 4 STARS