Review by Bryan Yentz
Starring Christopher Rygh and Cora Kaufman
Written by Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart
Directed by Jordan Downey
Who would have thought that the minds behind a psychotically sentient turkey murdering and copulating his way through a swath of idiotic teens in 2009’s THANKSKILLING (not to mention its “third” sequel featuring a bisexual worm from outer space) would go on to create this year’s most arguably independent piece of dramatically sepulchral horror? Hey, we all gotta start somewhere, right?
For what it is, THE HEAD HUNTER is a surprising feat of ambitious and practical guerilla filmmaking. While the runtime is barely over an hour in length, it manages to convey a meaningful story with additional levels of unspoken narrative conveyed through clever environmental details and props.
Following the death of his daughter (Cora Kaufman), beheading badass “Father” (a perfectly moody Christopher Rygh) has resigned himself to dispatching all manner of foul beast from the stretches of land just outside the walls of a neighboring castle, hoping that one day he might cleave the feral being responsible for his child’s demise. Yes, it’s an undemanding story, but the subtle beauty derives from the sheer amount of detail placed into wardrobe, set design and our barbaric lead’s quotidian rituals.
Oddly enough however, for a horror film that’s literally about decapitation, THE HEAD HUNTER is incredibly reserved when it comes to violence and nearly every bout beyond the climax is handled entirely off-screen. Initially, such restraint is admirable. Watching Father reminisce about his daughter while traipsing through a snow-smothered forest, sword in hand, to quell an unseen foe is dramatically poetic. Though, doing this for EVERY hunt? That’s repetitive. At a certain point (both for story structure and visual pacing), we need something more than shots of the before and after. Imagine if ROCKY was edited only to show him training before abruptly cutting to the fight’s aftermath with him yelling “Adrian!” You’d be a little miffed that you didn’t get to the view the entire battle that led to that pinnacle moment.
Obviously the budget (or lack thereof) played into the filmmakers’ inability to properly depict predatory pursuits and their culminating standoff, but I would’ve loved to see a bit more evolution to these portions; felt more tension as Father stalked into the woodland to butcher creepy denizens with ever-escalating methods of attack. The finale attempts a little more visual variety (in terms of an actual clash), but due to it taking place in a dark cave and its implementation of purposeful cutaways, the imagery is mostly obscured. Further disappointing is the denouement which I felt to be a bit of an illogical cop-out given Father’s instincts and the movie’s overall progression up until this point.
Content-wise, there’s not a lot a lot of development that occurs between Father’s cranial collecting, and the glacial pace will undoubtably put off many expecting a frenetic creature-feature. This is a somber journey of revenge that’s driven more by beautifully photographed atmosphere (thanks to Kevin Stewart working dual roles as writer/cinematographer) and palpable melancholy, rather than straight action—so be warned.
Despite its few flaws, I wholeheartedly recommend THE HEAD HUNTER for what it accomplishes on such meager financials and with such a small team behind it. It’s an out-of-nowhere horror film with a head full of artistic aspirations that proves a vision can be made manifest when the right people are so committed to bringing it to life. Given the craft displayed herein, I can only imagine the staggering vision Jordan Downey and his team will concoct next.