Director: Jordan Downey
Script: Kevin Stewart & Jordan Downey
Cast: Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman
Running time: 72 minutes
On the edge of a mediaeval kingdom dwells a battle weary warrior who acts as a kind of monster bounty hunter for the king, after previously losing his only child to one such monster some years before. This Viking-like warrior also seems to know how to heal himself with herbal and magical salves and potions, hence, when he gets seriously injured during his frequent fights with a nasty array of creatures, he still manages to somehow survive.
All his monster conquests are displayed on his cottage walls, impaled on wooden spikes driven through their frightful heads. However, he still craves one head, that of the creature that killed his beloved daughter. It’s this thirst for revenge that drives him on, making him take on ever greater challenges to help take his mind off the pain of grief that he feels.
Finally, a chance for vengeance is offered him when the king sends him yet another message with instructions as to the last place the monster was seen. After a long journey on foot through troll country he finally gets to meet his nemesis, but will the encounter go as expected – with the creature’s bloody demise – or will he find more than he bargained for?
The Head Hunter is an almost dialogue-free film that gets by on the menacing atmosphere it generates and on its central performance by Christopher Rygh who’s on pretty much every shot. Cora Kaufman, who plays his ‘sleeping beauty’ daughter, is only in the film very briefly so doesn’t really make much of an impression. In fact the solo character nature of the film makes it feel a bit like a cross between Castaway and Game of Thrones.
Kevin Stewart’s moody photography serves the story, such as it is, well, and costume design (by Andre Bravin) is pretty good, especially for a lower budget film. This, plus the location and set design, all adds authenticity to the film. Although the original music score by Nick Soole works okay, I found it rather dirge-like and a bit too repetitive for its own good.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the film is the lack of actual fights on screen between the warrior and his monster prey. It’s likely that fans of sword and sorcery films will be disappointed by the movie’s general lack of action, since we only witness the aftermath of the hand-to-hand battles, culminating in the collected decapitated heads, which are nicely realised by VFX artist Troy Smith.
Another disappointment, for me at least, are the inconsistences in the film, such as one minute he has a horse, the next it’s now longer there (did he lose it in battle?) and one sloppy action, involving a loose window, leads to an overly convenient plot contrivance, which goes against the central protagonist’s usually careful, cautious nature.
However, there are some nice touches, such as the reanimated spider, some nice monster head prosthetics, some cool Portuguese and Californian landscapes, and a nicely realised, tense sequence involving our friendly neighbourhood warrior being stalked by a reanimated head, replete with its moving, snake-like spinal cord.
The Head Hunter, as a bizarre mix of Dungeons and Dragons and a folk horror movie, kinda works, but at times is a frustrating watch due to it being a bit too introspective and slow-moving, even for a short feature.
The Head Hunter is being distributed by 101 Films and comes complete with some additional features namely:
Making of featurette (2 mins) – A short and sweet bit of talking heads PR fluff where the director reveals that the film is chiefly about a broken man;
How we made The Head Hunter commentary with Jordan Downey, Kevin Stewart and Ricky Fosheim; the director and writer talk mostly about the technical aspects of the film. Apparently only about a third of the snow in shot was real.
Why we made The Head Hunter commentary with Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart; the writer and director talk about the writing of the script and the emotional appeal of the film. We learn that they view this as a historical horror film.