Eye For Film >> Movies >> Hunter Hunter (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Why is it that some people feel the need to prove to themselves that they can take on anything all by themselves, no matter how difficult or dangerous? Sometimes it's a response to trauma, which is one of the central concerns of Shawn Linden's drama - a way of stress testing oneself to provide reassurance that nothing can happen which one can't handle. On other occasions it's about a desire to prove oneself to wider society. There seem to be elements of both in Joe Mersault's decision to try and carve out a living as a backwoods fur trapper, and that would be fair enough, but his decisions also have consequences for the family he has taken with him.
Joe (Devon Sawa) is a practical man who finds pride in what he can make with his own two hands. He knows his business well and his young teenage daughter Renée (Summer H Howell) is keen to learn it, wanting to impress, wanting to be as capable as he is. Wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) is less keen; we get the feeling that she's the one who has to find ways of managing when things go wrong day to day, ways of bulking up scanty meals and putting clothes on the family's backs. She would prefer to live in town where Renée could go to school, but her husband always gets his way, and when put under pressure she will always stand by him. Things become more difficult, however, when a wolf which has bothered the family before returns to the area. Not only does it represent a potential danger to them - especially the more slightly built Renée - but it takes food from their traps, making it even harder for them to make a living.
Joe being the sort of man he is, he sets off into the woods for a showdown, man against beast: the stuff of many an adventure tale and quite a few films. Staying behind, the women begin to worry when his absence lasts longer than expected, and have to face increasing dangers themselves just to get food. But things are about to get a lot worse. As Joe makes a discovery that suggests a monster of a different kind is on the prowl, Anne finds an injured stranger in the woods and is forced to make a decision which could have dangerous consequences either way.
There are hints here of the 1901 S Carleton story The Lame Priest, and although this fable ultimately takes us in a different direction, it seems rooted in the same American woodland lore, the same cautionary tales that guarded those on the frontier generation after generation. Joe worries that his wife is too soft but her softness, had he yielded to it, might have brought about a better fate for all of them; and besides, there's more to her than meets the eye, as we learn halfway through when she resorts to animalistic behaviour to defend her child. This is a lawless place, and the family have nobody to depend on but for one another. Although we get little hints that they live in a time not far from our present, the essence of their existence is the same as that of forest dwellers for century upon century. With close-ups of animals being skinned and butchered from the very start, Linden is keen to make sure that we understand what that means.
There's the meat of a strong story here, and a good performance by Sullivan to hang it on, but Linden rarely manages to generate the tension that he needs and a poorly balanced story structure also lets it down. Dependent on its ending - much hyped but not as original as some seem to think - for any kind of oomph, it plays out like a badly delivered ballad. There's enough there to make viewers curious, to make them want to probe further, but not to make a re-watch likely. It's just a little too flat.Reviewed on: 24 Dec 2020