Starring: Christopher Rygh
Runtime: 72 minutes
Release Date: April 12, 2021 (UK)
Language: English Stereo PCM & DTSHD surround
Aspect Ratio: High-definition 1080p 16:9 (1.78:1)
Format: Blu-ray (1 disc)
Adorned in his battle worn armour—riddled in tears, scorch marks, and stains from myriads of slain creatures—his Orcish helmet, and armed with his trusty bloodthirsty longsword +2, handaxe, the titular Head Hunter awaits his call. For a momentary pause, the massive shadow of a passing Dragon blocks the sunlight. From atop the mountain castle, the forlorn horn eerily echoing down into the misty valleys and haunted woods, indicating that yet another monster contract has been issued. The bearded hunter eagerly awaits sharpening his blades, concocting his healing rubs, and preparing a fresh stake for the head of his umpteenth prey. He awaits to add the head of the foul beast, who took his daughter from him, into his wall-mounted collection. He awaits vengeance.
A junior feature effort from American director Jordan Downey, The Head Hunter showcases strong future potential for its filmmaker. Initially a Shudder exclusive and since released on Blu-ray by the fine folk at 101 Films, this medieval supernatural thriller follows a lonesome monster hunter on his quest for vengeance against the elusive creature that killed his daughter. Fellow fans of Dungeons & Dragons and The Witcher will undoubtedly find plenty to admire and even inspire within this film, our silent protagonist seemingly being a Witcher pre-Trial of the Grasses. It adds up: he doesn’t like to talk, his best friend is his horse, he’s a master swordsman who knows his herbs and tonics, and he hunts the monsters that the kingdom cannot or does not want to handle. He even decapitates and collects the monster heads (werewolves, goblins, hags, trolls, giants, etc.) for his own collection, opting to hang them in his cabin instead of on his horse. At only 72 minutes long and predominantly silent, the viewer is truly immersed into this bleak world of death and smoke through the natural sound design of the abandoned woods and Nick Soole‘s moody musical score. Might I add that the film looks damn good given the budget, with a handful of natural landscape drone shots in various Portuguese /Californian environments that bring Refn‘s Valhalla Rising to mind, with a suspenseful claustrophobic third act that echoes, dare I say, a (med)Evil Dead vibe directed by Ben Wheatley.
In a tactful show-don’t-tell manner, Jordan Downey really proves his mettle in handling this extremely concise, immersive, and well lived-in epic with only $30,000! Seriously, that’s practically saying a non-existent budget by today’s standards, and it’s a damn shame this soon to be cult fave just barely made back its total expenses (bridging in roughly $44K). Seemingly no strangers to both practical effects and micro-budgets (surmised from their two ThanksKilling films) in an age of mega $100M+ summer blockbusters, Downey and his long-time writer/DoP /producer partner Kevin Stewart would surely make the likes of Sam Raimi proud. The amount of little trinkets, skeletal charms, primal traps, jarred tonics and rubs, loot-filled cabin, weaponry, armour, pelts, and the aforementioned head collection all make the set design truly outstanding—more so knowing it was all done on such a small budget. I’d love to see both of them get a nice A24 deal or to be able to direct an episode or two of Netflix’s The Witcher, even feature acting debut protagonist Christopher Rygh would fit as a School of the Bear Witcher. As I mentioned earlier, our protagonist is essentially a Witcher yet without magika, and if he was raising a normal child (not Ciri).
A large common complaint I can see out of this film is that it lacks actual fight sequences with the various hinted at beasts. We really don’t even see the hunt either, as we await his return to see both the aftermath of the battle via rips, torn flesh, dents, allied losses, and to see which creatures severed head rolls out of the Hunter’s crimson wet bag. You can’t be blamed for feeling a little upset over the lack of on-screen action when you’re being baited with some awesome practical monster designs hanging on the wall or being dragged across the misty field in a blood-soaked burlap sack. It’s understandable as to why such scenes were not shot given their budget, and yet even without them, this very straightforward story of grief and revenge in supernatural times still works seamlessly. There really aren’t any hands to be held here as The Head Hunter carries on with his duties and preparations nary a word. It’s a very instinctive film that immediately succeeds in drawing you into its atmospheric world through imagery alone. This is a very strong recommendation for any fans of all the aforementioned IPs, fantasy and medieval stories, practical effects, and decent amounts of gore.
MAIN MENU OPTIONS (replay loop of non-spoiler scenes play in the background to the film’s eerie score):
– Play feature film
– Special Features
- “How We Made Head Hunter” – Commentary track with director Jordan Downey and producers Kevin Stewart and Ricky Fosheim
- “Why We Made Head Hunter” – Commentary track with writer-director Jordan Downey and writer/producer/DoP Kevin Stewart
- Making of featurette (2min)
- Traditional 101 Films clear Blu-ray case
- Unnumbered spine with the 101 logo
- One disc
- No marketing leaflet inside
Don’t fret fellow hunter, there’s no need to prepare, track down, and drag your own copy through the cursed woods; the blacksmiths at 101 Films have a fresh unrotten copy for you. Click here to our grab your own.
Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. To my editor’s chagrin, I typically like to go over my word count in discussing films. Most if not all my reviews are originally written within an hour of finishing the film, so that I can deliver an unfiltered, raw, genuine, in the moment, thought process to you. My taste is eclectic (both in film and music), but I have a strong preference for 80s Cult/Sleaze films, Sci-fi, War, Chambara, Fantasy, and Psychological Thrillers. Thanks for giving us a read and I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit! Long live physical media; long live VHS. Remember: watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.