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Hunter Hunter Review: A Nail-Biting Thriller That's Sharp As A Bear Trap

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Director Shawn Linden's sleek thriller, Hunter Hunter, springs tight like a bear trap and leaves its audience breathless by the time the credits roll. Under IFC Midnight, Hunter Hunter is an indie venture that managed to creep in right at the tail end of 2020, and feels like an oddly appropriate way to usher out such a tumultuous year. Horror movie veteran Devon Sawa, who is well-known to audiences for his work in Final Destination and the horror-comedy Idle Hands, takes on a much different role here, leaving behind stylized teen '90s horror for a more mature, seasoned, and even quiet countenance. Hunter Hunter functions like a cautionary parable that leans into several different horror sub-genres, adding layers of mystery until the movie's conclusion sprints to a heart-stopping final sequence. This scene will undoubtedly be its most heralded, as it revels in shock factor and is steeped in the underbelly of some of horror's most gory titles. Hunter Hunter's atmospheric, woodland nightmare barrels through like a boulder down a hillside and depicts a ferocious battle between man and beast.

Sawa is joined by Camille Sullivan (Da Vinci's Inquest), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3, Sin City), and Summer H. Howell (Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky), who round out the small main cast. Gabriel Daniels, Lauren Cochrane, Jade Michael, Erik Athavale, Blake Taylor, and Karl Thordarson have supporting roles. Hunter Hunter tells the story of a family of fur trappers, led by patriarch Joseph (Sawa), who live a secluded, remote, and primitive life out in the untamed wilderness. Joseph's daughter, Renee (Howell), is learning the trade from her father, and is an only child. She is seemingly content with her life in the wilderness, and interested in following in her father's footsteps. However, Joseph's wife, Anne (Sullivan), starts to feel that the life they lead is not only unsuitable for a growing young woman - who is often mistaken for a young boy - but potentially even dangerous. This danger becomes increasingly present when the prospect of a nearby wolf threatens the family.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Hunter Hunter is in its clever use of sleight of hand. Not only does this permit the film, which was both written and directed by Linden, to keep its audience in a deep state of suspense, but makes the ending twist all the more shocking. Many movies boast spectacular twist endings, tease hush-hush discussions, and beg audiences not to spoil the ending, but Hunter Hunter deserves the right to all of this fanfare. Throughout the early exposition, which sometimes drags a little too long in setting up the intricacies of the family's dynamic and lifestyle, there's a moment of uncertainty. Hunter Hunter could be a great many movies, after all, and there's a particular interest here, which stems solely from not knowing quite what to expect. For some genre-savvy individuals, it occasionally feels like a classic werewolf movie, albeit the setting primarily takes place during the daytime hours. It's only when the threat of the wolf becomes more pressing that Joseph decides to start staying out later, closer to twilight hours, and even overnight - he promises to keep in contact with his family via walkie talkie.

However, even this setup feels like bait. In essence, Linden is the hunter carefully setting traps for his audience, and Sawa's utilitarian know-how is immediately convincing. The audience's trust is placed in his capable hands as he goes out to hunt a wolf and save his family, but given the tension with his wife, he's potentially posing to save more than that. His career and perhaps even his way of life are at stake if Anne and Renee decide that they're no longer able to be secluded in the woods, where danger lurks at any given moment. Hunter Hunter does occasionally drift into unbelievable territory as well. The threat of a wolf is arguably substantial, but the preparation for hunting it, keeping oneself safe, and ensuring all stays well on the homestead seems a bit extreme for a family of trained, heavily armed hunters and trappers who know the woods well enough to survive out there for presumably a decade or more.

While the first half of Hunter Hunter makes a good enough horror movie, it's the back half that makes it into something truly special. At some point, which is almost impossible to predict given the pacing near the end, Hunter Hunter becomes a completely different movie. There's a dark grit and pervasive sense of lingering uncertainty that builds to a climax where, suddenly, the rug is ripped out from underneath, and all pretense fades away. It's in that moment where Hunter Hunter reveals its true message, which is nothing short of stunning. While some might consider it to be lazy storytelling when one takes so long building to a conclusion only to summarily unravel it at once, there's something deliciously satisfying in how Linden executes this transition into full-on nightmare fuel that pays off.

Hunter Hunter is just immersive enough to get lost in, and creeps up slowly - just like a hidden trap. Riddled with subtlety related to its overall messaging and theme, Linden's direction works in tandem with the screenplay, building off the action in slow, tense sequences that feel almost too long. However, even this builds off the core theme: The movie takes the perfect time coaxing its prey, setting up its shot, double-checking to ensure it's perfect, then fires. Everything funnels back to the metaphor of hunter and hunted, predator and prey, and that includes the movie's audience.

Hunter Hunter is now available in select theaters, on DVD, and on demand. It has a 93 minute run time, and is not rated.
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