The last five minutes of Hunter Hunter contain one of the most repulsive images I've ever seen onscreen. When a movie does something like this, the question becomes, “Has the story earned it?” In this case, I think the answer is yes. Writer/director Shawn Linden has made a film about survival in hostile circumstances. The climactic scene of brutality adheres to that theme. It's definitely shocking, but not superfluous.
Devon Sawa plays Joseph Mersault, a man who – by choice – lives way out in the middle of the woods and works as a fur trapper. His excessively patient wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) dreams of getting a small house in town, one with electricity and running water. He'll hear none of it. The land has been in his family for three generations, and there's no way he's getting rid of it. Joseph instead teaches teen daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) the ins and outs of trapping and skinning animals.
The family's biggest struggle is a wolf that's been prowling around. The animal is hungry and mean, even cornering Anne and Renee at one point. Joseph goes out to plant extra traps, hoping to get rid of it. A short time later, Anne discovers an injured man named Lou (Nick Stahl) not far away from their cabin. That's really all you want me to say about the plot of Hunter Hunter because there are a couple legitimate shocks. And no, Lou is not a werewolf.
Early scenes set the premise up nicely. We follow Joseph as he trains Renee, which allows us to see the tenuous nature of their existence. If they don't catch something, they don't eat. The family is isolated from other people, with no easy access to help in cases of injury. Guns are all over the place to protect them from wildlife predators. Anne has to bring water to the house from a nearby stream. Visibly, these people are living a lifestyle that is outdated and occasionally dangerous. Every day requires the use of all their knowledge. To fail is to die.
The second half of Hunter Hunter has the Mersaults put those skills to the test like never before. Linden uses the stark nature of the woods to create an eerie ambiance. In his hands, the forest is a place where danger hides – not just the danger created by animals, but the danger created by man. That idea, more than anything, is the genesis of the film's tension. Anne accuses Joseph of not wanting to move because he's “afraid of people.” Turns out, even being off the grid in a forest isn't safe from others.
All four main cast members turn in good performances. The standout, to the degree that there is one, is Camille Sullivan. As Anne, she has to balance so many different emotions, from exasperation at living remotely, to a desire to support her husband, to a fierce need to protect those she loves. The actress gives an effective, layered performance that builds in power as the movie winds toward its finale.
That brings us back to The Scene. Another couple minutes of wrapping the story up would have helped clarify a point or two, particularly in regard to Lou. That said, Hunter Hunter ends with a real jolt. Viewers who are faint of heart may be left aghast. In a story about survival, though, one character makes a definitive choice to survive, leaving us to think about how far we would go in a similar situation. Such is the gut-wrenching appeal of this intense thriller.
out of four
Hunter Hunter is unrated, but contains adult language and graphic bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.