Shawn Linden’s (‘Nobody’) third directorial venture, ‘Hunter Hunter’, unfolds in a purposefully uneven pace. It shifts back and forth between the monotony and quietness of life in the backwoods for the Mersault family and the immediate dangers they face from the threats lurking beyond their doors. However, a sense of an all-encompassing dread has an unrelenting hold on every scene of the film, and its repressive effect remains with the audience long after the film is over.
The film doesn’t pursue the conventional tropes of a horror thriller. Instead, it focuses on atmospheric and visceral terror. It is a profoundly tragic story that showcases the mistakes that different family members make at different times that ultimately lead to a sensational and disturbing climax. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Hunter Hunter Plot Synopsis
Joseph “Joe” Mersault (Devon Sawa), his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan), and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) live off the land, far away from human civilization. They trade animal furs for supplies, hunt and forage for food, and collect water from a nearby stream. It’s a hard life with which Anne has become increasingly disillusioned. Her biggest concern is Renee. As Anne tells Joe early in the film, he has chosen this life and she has chosen him, but Renee never got to make that choice. She was born as a fur trapper‘s daughter and grew up worshipping the ground her father walks on. She is not interested in any of the things that normal teenagers are because she has no experience with them.
After the wolf that Joe has failed to kill for the past few years returns to the property that the family claims is their own, Anne’s desperation to leave their remote cabin and move somewhere in the nearby town grows even further. But for Joe, life begins and ends in the land that he has inherited from his forefathers. Driven by his own sense of desperation, he clings on to what is familiar, not knowing that the world around him is rapidly changing. His failure to acknowledge and adapt to these changes ends up costing him and his family dearly. After he discovers several bodies in various stages of decomposition in an area in the forest marked with X signs, he realizes that a different kind of predator is prowling close to his home. Instead of going to the authorities with these findings, he decides to take care of it himself, a decision that proves to be catastrophic not only for him but also for his wife and daughter.
Hunter Hunter Ending
In a press release, Linden compared the film to traditional western fairytales before they were sanitized to fit the sensibilities of the modern world. The film has all the fairytale archetypes, from a strange and dangerous forest to a reclusive huntsman to the Big Bad Wolf to evil that appears to be benevolent at first glance. Linden draws from multiple stories to create a plot that is both composite and unique. The Big Bad Wolf trope makes its original appearance in multiple fairytales, including Aesop’s Fables and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Among the latter, the film is heavily influenced by ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
The wolf in that tale pretends to be the grandmother of the eponymous character before revealing itself and eating her. In the same manner, Lou (Nick Stahl) introduces himself as a photographer whose car broke down. Taking the cue from what Anne initially thinks is the cause of his injury, he tells her that he was attacked by the wolf. It is only after Anne finds Joe’s body that she realizes that he was killed by Lou. Horrified that she has left her daughter alone with this murderer, she rushes back home and is ambushed by him, who, like the wolf in the tales, concludes that all his preys are within his grasp and reveals himself.
The Mistakes and the Prices
During their conversation about a possible relocation for the family, Anne tells Joe, “You’re scared of people.” It’s a pretty accurate observation about a man who has spent his life consciously staying far away from human settlements. Unfortunately, this has left him completely ignorant about human laws and behavior. Neither he nor his wife knows that the land their family used to own is now a federal property, and they have become trespassers and poachers there. This is the first mistake that Joe makes that leads to immense tragedy for his family. Lou, likely, has been using the forest as his dumping ground because he thinks that it is deserted.
Joe’s second mistake is believing that he can take on the killer by himself. He might be an expert trapper and hunter of animals, but he has absolutely no idea how the human mind works. He lays traps on the dumping ground, and they just end up catching the local municipality officer, Barthes (Gabriel Daniels). Eventually, Joe ends up being killed by Lou. “… your husband wanted to catch a wolf. Is that what he told you?” Lou asks Anne this after he incapacitates her. Evidently, he is aware that Joe was hunting for him.
The True Hunter
Anne makes her share of mistakes, the most disastrous of which is bringing Lou to the cabin and nursing him back to health. As with the wolf, Joe had only managed to injure Lou. But he would have died if Anne hadn’t rescued him. She never really finds the extent of Lou’s crimes, but the moment she discovers Joe’s body, she realizes who is responsible. Lou beats her up and keeps reassuring her that she will see her daughter when she helps him get to his car. Lou is not just a killer; he is a rapist as well, which is evident by the lack of clothes on the dead bodies he has left. When he tries to force himself on Anne, she knocks him out with a trap.
It is only then that she finds out that her daughter has been murdered as well, likely after Lou raped her. In that moment of pure agony and righteous anger, she snaps and drags Lou to the family’s skinning shed. She binds him with the chains there and then begins her meticulous work. The police arrive right after she has cut out his face. He is still alive and his eyes are still moving, like in a horrible reimagining of a midlevel portrait. In the end, it’s Anne and not Joe who emerges as the true huntsman of the story. A life with which she has become disenchanted gives her the tools of revenge. Now she has nothing left because her future is as bleak as her present.
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