Starring: Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, Devon Sawa, Nick Stahl
Director: Shawn Linden
Writer: Shawn Linden
“We bring our problems to them. They bring their problems to us.” – Joseph
THE ELEMENTS OF FICTION
Shawn Linden’s (The Good Lie) third film, Hunter Hunter (2020), presents the viewer with a complex roadmap to navigate towards a shocking conclusion, which firmly places it in the subgenre of Canuxploitation. Linden takes his time to flense the skin and fat from his story to expose the bones and sinew before laying out the beating heart of his thriller. The main characters, the Mersault family, journey through many types of conflicts, which drive the rising action and leads to a shocking climax and bloody resolution.
The Mersault family struggles with many different types of conflict as they live in their chosen setting, a cabin deep in the woods with minimal human contact. Joseph (Devon Sawa, Final Destination, Idle Hands), Anne (Camille Sullivan, A Dog’s Way Home), and their tweener daughter, Renee (Summer H. Howell, Cult of Chucky), live off the grid. They make a simple, bare-bones life as hunters and trappers. Their primitive existence is initially upset the return of a wolf that eats their traps, the discovery that there is not enough money to buy supplies for the coming winter.
During a tense dinner discussion about handling these issues, Joseph exposes his personal, internal conflict. His deep hubris, born from his fear and mistrust of the outside world, prevents him from listening to Anne’s suggestions to report the wolf and spend the winter in town. He declares he can do a better job protecting the family than the “fish cops” would. He warns Anne that getting help from the outside will create more trouble for the family. She responds that her worries are about the wolf and impending winter, while Joseph is more afraid of people. The next morning he heads off into the woods alone to hunt the beast.
Joseph enters the woods discovers a blazed trail that leads to a grisly crime scene. Instead of reporting it to the police, he decides to lay a trap for the killer. Switching his prey to the person who is using the woods as a charnel dumping ground for victims drives Hunter Hunter to the deliriously blood-soaked orgy of terror that is its final act.
THE WORLD OF HUNTER HUNTER
One of the film’s major themes is the relationship between the individual and the greater society as viewed through the lens of isolation versus participation. The Mersaults are truly at home in the woods and are outsiders in town. Anne is the conduit between the two worlds. At home, she exhibits drive and bravery. At one point, she fearlessly faces down the wolf when it corners her and Renee. These characteristics are absent when she goes into town. Talking to the local land agents, she is visibly uncomfortable and fearful of their authority.
The people in town do not extend much empathy or compassion to Anne. They treat her with condescension and derision when she attempts to report the wolf and her missing husband. They ridicule her knowledge of the forest creatures when she proves that the wolf is eating humans (or at least human remains). Then they inform her that Joseph’s land is now federal property. Joseph had predicted that going to the authorities would create more problems. They threaten that further complaints from her might endanger the custody of her “boy in the truck.” Realizing there is no help for them there, she and Renee return home.
With the stage set, Linden brings his characters to a brutal climax of jaw-dropping ferocity straight out of the golden age of grindhouse classics such as I Spit on Your Grave or Last House on the Left. During the resolution, the municipal agents are slack-jawed in horror when they view the carnage.
The word chimera has two distinct meanings. One, a mythical monster made from the bodies of multiple animals, and the other is a thing that is wanted but impossible to achieve. Hunter Hunter walks a fine line between both of these definitions. Does Linden’s grasp extend beyond his reach? I leave it up to the viewer to decide for themselves, based on their expectations of the kind of movie they want. Is it a survivalist story of people versus nature? Is it about the person’s place in society? Or is there a more intimate conflict of two people struggling with each other? Or even more intimate as the story explores conflicts within individuals? To his credit as writer and director, each of these is laid out so clearly that any one of them could have stood as its own movie.
Linden does an excellent job linking the three conflicts into one narrative. The movie gracefully flows from one plot point to the next without any detours. The talented cast of veteran actors give powerful performances. All in all, Hunter Hunter is a well-told story about many things, and I highly recommend it for each. It is currently available on all major streaming platforms.