Del and Mladen review ‘Hunter Hunter’

Image courtesy of IFC Midnight.

“Hunter Hunter” Starring Devon Sawa, Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, Nick Stahl. Directed by Shawn Linden. 93 minutes. Unrated. Netflix, HBO, Hulu, YouTube.

Spoiler alert: This review contains reveals that are meaningful to the climax.

Del’s take

Remember Devon Sawa?

In the 1990s he was a teen heartthrob, bowl cut and all, starring in movies like “Casper” and “Final Destination.” Today Sawa is all grown up, a husband, father, and author of a dementedly hilarious twitterfeed at @DevonESawa . He’s also the lead in today’s stream gem, “Hunter Hunter.”

Fair warning: “Hunter Hunter” is not for everyone. It is dark and bloody. One scene is an over-the-top gorefest. I don’t usually go for that sort of thing but I found myself watching “Hunter Hunter” for the story and acting. The story was thin but fairly compelling. The acting was top notch.

Sawa plays Mersault, who lives in a northern backwater with his tremulous wife, Anne (Camille Sullivan) and daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell). Mersault is stubbornly dedicated to their impoverished and primitive lifestyle, believing salvation lies just around the corner with the next animal trapped and the next varmint extinguished. Speaking of which, a rogue wolf has entered their realm and is poaching animals from the traps Mersault has strung throughout the forest. Without the pelts those animals provide his family will starve, reason enough for Mersault to stalk the wolf and Anne to want to relocate into town, where a real house awaits and Renee can attend school.

During his wanderings Mersault comes across a grisly scene – a dump site for a serial killer. Incredibly, he does not report his discovery to authorities but decides to hunt the new predator himself. Meanwhile, a broken-down car introduces Lou, a nobody who is found crawling through the woods, injured and bleeding. Anne brings him to the family cabin for recuperation. From there, disparate story threads begin to converge, with horrifying consequences for all involved.

I have gripes with director Linden’s handling of “Hunter Hunter.” To begin, Mersault’s backstory needs beefing up. Why does he cling to a lifestyle his wife seems to hate? How is he able to dictate their living conditions with little argument from Anne or Renee?

Also, I have a problem with viewpoint. The story is told through the Mersault character until it reaches a certain point, where the viewpoint shifts to Anne. This change telegraphs an important plot resolution. I have no problem with changing viewpoint characters in movies but if Linden had employed the technique throughout instead of only when it became necessary, he might not have given away the ending.

Speaking of that over-the-top scene … the movie could have gotten along just fine without it. I’m not a fan of terror through shock. Tension is a much better source. Linden is able to do that in his building of the conflict between Mersault and the wolf, especially when Renee becomes a piece on the chess board. But once the blood starts gushing, all I felt was disgust.

Sawa had remained a child star in my memory so it was great to see him as an adult. He was fully convincing as Mersault, as were the other actors in their roles, and I look forward to his future movies. The setting of “Hunter Hunter” was lush and verdant, the cold palpable. It helped me appreciate the struggle that was their life in the woods.

If overt brutality and gore are not for you then I won’t recommend “Hunter Hunter.” If not, give it a watch. Despite its flaws it’s an interesting movie that will remain top-of-mind for days.

I give it a B.

Mladen’s take

No, Del, I didn’t remember Devon Sawa. Could care less that he was a child star or that he has a twitterfeed. Nearly everybody has a twitterfeed because Twitter is open to nearly everybody, which leads to a planet-load of crap floating in cyberspace. Even Trump’s ban from twitter doesn’t keep the Twitterverse from ranting about the injustices committed against the one-term, poser president fascist dickhead. Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, whatever, should burn in hell.

And, Del, because you’re clearly disinclined to level with our dear readers, let me define for them what you mean by “over-the-top gorefest.”

Torture pornography. That’s where the subplots in “Hunter Hunter” converge. The bad guy, fully conscious, is vivisected by the broken mother. The only redeeming part of that prolonged encounter between him and her wielding the tools of skinning and de-organing animals was the song playing in the background. It might have “narcissist” in its title, but I’m not sure. The song was ominously mellow with a touch of psychosis. Loved it.

“Hunter Hunter” starts OK enough. Dad Mersault teaching his daughter Renee the ways of the boreal forest of Canada is neat. He’s an animal trapper and she’s a trapper trainee. The plot establishes quickly and efficiently that Mom Anne was sufficiently content with the 18th Century life her husband wanted to live when they were newlyweds or Renee was still young. But, now, Renee needs true schooling, the pelts are worth much less, and the few the family is producing are fewer because a wolf has been raiding the traps. Mersault wants to stay in the woods. Anne is eyeballing life in a town. Renee is caught between. Understood.

“Hunter Hunter” then starts to degenerate. The first hint of the trouble on the way is Anne starting to worry that the wolf is directly a threat to them, as in it wants to eat the family. Any seasoned outdoorsman or environmentalist knows wolves are no threat to people. So, “Hunter Hunter” uses the cheap ploy of making the trap-raiding wolf the wolf of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood to build tension and allow misdirection. Didn’t buy it.    

Then, as Del notes, “Incredibly, (Mersault) does not report his discovery to authorities but decides to hunt the new predator himself.” The discovery is, of course, the cache of female corpses left by a serial killer and rapist. What the hell? Yes, Mersault is a man’s man. He knows the woods. He can trap animals, but is the skill of trapping animals applicable to the skill of hunting and capturing a demented human being? And, by the way, I assume murder is against the law even in backwoods Canada. Wasn’t Mersault obligated to call a Mountie?

As the story unfolds, Marsault becomes the hunted, the hunter of Mersault continues to hunt, but then he becomes the hunted. Maybe the film should’ve been called “Hunter Hunter Hunter.”

The film has wonderful cinematography. The north woods are breathtaking. I agree with Del, the acting is good. There’s a couple of nice-touch quick glimpses of something amiss. None of the above, however, offsets what “Hunter Hunter” transforms into during the last, oh, 5 minutes of its run. “Hunter Hunter” is a C and that’s generous.  

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.