Shawn Linden’s (‘Nobody’) third directorial project, ‘Hunter Hunter’, unveils in a intentionally uneven speed. It swings back and forth between the continuity and quietness of life in the backwoods for the Mersault family and the ultimate dangers they face from the threats lurking beyond their doors. However, a sense of an all-surrounding fear has a constant hold on every scene of the film, and its repressive effect remains with the audiences long after the film is over.
The film doesn’t contain the basic tropes of a horror thriller. Instead, it concentrates on atmospheric and visceral terror. It is an intense tragic story that showcases the mistakes that different family members make at different times that ultimately lead to a sensational and unsettling climax. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Hunter Hunter Plot Synopsis
Joseph “Joe” Mersault (Devon Sawa), his spouse Anne (Camille Sullivan), and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) live off the land, far away from human civilization. They sell animal furs for supplies, hunt and forage for food, and get water from a nearby stream. It’s a hard life with which Anne has become increasingly disappointed. Her biggest concern is Renee. As Anne informs Joe initially in the film, he has chosen this life and she has chosen him, but Renee never had a chance to make that choice. She was born as a fur trapper‘s daughter and grew up worshipping the ground her father walks on.
She has no interest in any of the things that normal teenagers do because she has not experienced these things. After the wolf that Joe could not succeed in killing in the past few years returns to the property that the family calls as their own, Anne’s intention to leave their remote cabin and shift somewhere in the nearby town grows even further. But for Joe, life starts and ends in the land that he has received in legacy from his forefathers. Driven by his own sense of desperation, he clings on to what is familiar, unaware that the world around him is rapidly changing.
His lack of success in acknowledging and adapting to these changes comes at the cost of him and his family dearly. After he finds several bodies in various phases of decomposition in an area in the forest marked with X signs, he gets to know that a different kind of predator is prowling close to his home. Instead of going to the authorities with this information, he decides to take care of it himself, a decision that proves to be disastrous 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 wentfor structuring and finishing to fit to what makes sense in the modern world. The film has all the fairytale aspects, from a strange and dangerous forest to a reclusive huntsman to the Big Bad Wolf to evil that appears to be kind at first glimpse. Linden summarizes from multiple stories to create a plot that is both composite and unique. The Big Bad Wolf trope appears in multiple fairytales, including Aesop’s Fables and Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Among the latter, the film has an effect of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
The wolf in that story acts as the grandmother of the eponymous character before disclosing itself and eating her. Similarly, Lou (Nick Stahl) introduces himself as a photographer whose car needs repair. Taking the cue from what Anne primarily thinks is the cause of his injury, he tells her that he was attacked by the wolf. It is only after Anne discovers Joe’s body that she gets to know that Lou killed him. Terrified that she has left her daughter alone with this criminal, she hurries back home and is surprised by him, who, like the wolf in the tales, says that all his preys are within his grasp and discloses himself.
The Mistakes and the Prices
During their conversation about a probable shifting for the family, Anne tells Joe, “You’re scared of people.” It’s quite an accurate observation about a man who has lived his life consciously staying far away from human interactions. Sadly, this has left him completely unaware about human laws and behavior. He and his wife both are unaware of the fact 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 results in profound tragedy for his family.
Lou, possibly, has been using the forest as his dumping ground because he thinks that it is barren. Joe’s second mistake is believing that he can handle the killer by himself. He might be a perfectionist at trapping and hunting of animals, but he is completely ignorant about how the human mind works. He places traps on the dumping ground, and they just end up catching the local municipality officer, Barthes (Gabriel Daniels). Lastly, Joe ends up being killed by Lou. “… your husband wanted to catch a wolf. Is that what he told you?” Lou asks this to Anne after he incapacitates her. Obviously, he knows that Joe was hunting for him.
The True Hunter
Anne makes a number of mistakes, the most catasteophic of which is bringing Lou to the cabin and caressing him back to health. As with the wolf, Joe had only managed to injure Lou. But he would have lost his life if Anne hadn’t saved him. She never really realizes the extent of Lou’s crimes, but the moment she discovers Joe’s body, she observes who is responsible. Lou beats her up and keeps telling her that she will see her daughter if she helps him get to his car. Lou is not just a killer; he is a rapist too, which is clear by the lack of clothes on the dead bodies he has left. When he tries to force himself on Anne, she pushes him aside with a trap.
It is only then that she discovers that her daughter has been killed too, likely after Lou raped her. In that moment of pure rage and righteous anger, she holds and drags Lou to the family’s skinning shed. She ties him to the chains there and then starts her meticulous work. The police reaches after she has cut out his face. He is still alive, and his eyes are still intact, like in a horrible reimagining of a midlevel portrait. In the end, it’s Anne and not Joe, who comes out as the true huntsman of the story. A life with which she has become disappointed gives her the tools of revenge. Now she has nothing left because her future is as barren as her present.