Hunter Hunter: The Devil’s Tools, by David Bax
It’s unclear exactly why Shawn Linden’s visceral and harrowing new film Hunter Hunter is a period piece, taking place sometime in the mid- to late-1980s, based on the technology on display. Maybe the remoteness of its setting is deepened by a lack of GPS? Whatever the year and the reason for it, Linden’s vision of life on the economic knife’s edge will be sadly familiar to too many viewers today. And what Hunter Hunter offers for the prospects of such a life won’t be a balm.
Deep in the woods somewhere considerably north of the equator, The Mersault family–Joseph (Devon Sawa), Anne (Camille Sullivan) and daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell)–live off the land much like their ancestors, hunting wildlife and selling pelts and meat in the nearest town. That market is drying up, though, and they’re running out of money. So it’s far more than just a nuisance that a wolf has been picking off the animals caught in their traps. But when Joseph sets off to kill the predator, he stumbles across the dumping ground of a serial killer, setting off a terrifying ordeal both for himself and for Anne and Renee back at the family cabin.
Even before that gruesome twist, Linden displays a praiseworthy aptitude with both framing and scene construction. There’s a directness–even a sense of restraint–to Hunter Hunter as well as a confidence with the quiet, prolonged moments that combine to make the movie tense as hell. A parallel sequence of two characters simply walking back home becomes unbearably fraught even without a single glimpse of the wolf, the madman or any other confirmed threat.
Some credit here must be given to the score by Kevon Cronin. Ominous droning is pretty commonplace in movies these days but there’s a special, soulful quality to Cronin’s music that makes it as mournful as it is foreboding.
Movies about survivalism have increased at about the same rate as movies about the apocalypse in the past decade or more, and for the same reason. But the best of them, like Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, tend to have questions about the mentality of those who choose such a life while civilization is still standing (or whatever approximation of standing our civilization may be doing). That Joseph’s concern upon finding the bodies of the killer’s victims–all of whom are female–is for his wife and daughter is both natural and respectable. But Linden has already let us see the cracks in the Mersault marriage that have formed as a result of Joseph’s insistence on living this way in the first place, practically starving, surrounded by wolves and miles from schools and hospitals. It’s not that Joseph doesn’t want his family in danger, it seems; it’s that he only wants them in danger on his terms.
Joseph would probably insist that there’s a commendable purity to this way of life. His true motivation (though he’d likely never admit it) may just be a straightforward terror of the world of humans. It makes you feel sorry for him and especially for Anne and Renee. But, in the end, Linden reminds us that the human world can be even more brutal and nasty than the one where you occasionally have a snap a rabbit’s neck with your bare hands just to have something to eat. Hunter Hunter offers no easy solutions, no uplift, no salvation, redemption or reassurance. It’s too viciously honest to do that.