Night Hunter (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: When a mentally impaired serial abductor/rapist/murderer is caught by a grizzled police detective, his spree of crimes mysteriously continues. Is he receiving help from the outside world or somehow conducting the crimes behind bars himself?

REVIEW: It’s never a great sign when a movie takes more than two years after it was shot to find a distribution date, which happens to be the case for David Raymond’s star-spangled debut feature, NIGHT HUNTER (WATCH IT HERE), a deftly directed and well-performed thriller that starts off with perky intrigue, only to slump into near crippling, almost eye-rolling absurdity in the end through an overreliance on one too many gimmicks and pretty platitudinous finale. While the A-list cast certainly elevates the material, what is written on the page is still well below many of their standards, which means even great actors like Ben Kingsley and Stanley Tucci can only deodorize so much of the inherent problems found in the screenplay before an effluvious whiff takes hold by the third act. That said, for a frosty snow-sodden bone-chiller, there’s nary a dull moment in its brisk 92-minutes of consistent entertainment. I liken it to an elongated episode of The X-Files, which is to say the movie is quite amusing while you’re in the thick of it, but one you aren’t so inclined to give much thought about once it’s over. Proven to be a fine Sunday matinee time-passer, NIGHT HUNTER (renamed from NOMIS) may squander its potential for greatness with a silly novelty, but it’s still worth a peek when it hits select theaters Friday, September 6th.

Filmed in Winnipeg, NIGHT HUNTER picks up in wintry Minnesota. A grizzled police Lieutenant named Marshall (Henry Cavill) gets wind of a new case involving a serial woman abductor, rapist and murderer that’s been terrorizing the town. This heightens his hackles immediately, as Marshall has a close relationship with his daughter Faye (Emma Tremblay), who is at the impressionable age of being duped by online pedophilic predators. Marshall’s colleague, Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), is also on the case, which becomes creepier and more mysterious by the day. Police Commissioner Harper (Tucci) oversees the investigation, and while Tucci isn’t ultimately given enough to do as an actor, he’s forced to make a tough decision or two. No, it isn’t until Kingsley shows up as Cooper, a grievous judge who, after his family was killed, defrocked and dedicated himself to independently hunting repeat sex offenders; that the movie really takes off. Cooper’s brutal, lopping off scrotums to teach lessons. He even teams with Lara (Eliana Jones), one of the girls he saved, to lure foul men in like a spider to a fly. This subplot is among the most fascinating parts of the movie, not only for its unique setup, but of course in the way Kingsley makes it all seem so believable.

Speaking of convincing, plaudits are in line for Brendan Fletcher, who gives an uneven but predominantly alarming turn as Simon Stulls, the demented mouth-spuming killer in question. Simon is not only deaf, not only the offspring of a rape, but he’s also beset with a severe case of arrested mental development, and quite possibly schizophrenia. Cooper helps Marshall locate Simon using his elaborate tracking devices, resulting in a hyper-stylized visit to Simon’s grotesque basement dungeon where filthy young women are held captive. But here’s the thing. Once Simon is brought behind bars, his criminal M.O. continues. We start to wonder if, PRIMAL FEAR style, Simon is faking a mental impairment in order to avoid serious jail time, or if someone on the outside is in cahoots with Simon. It’s right here in the mysterious air of this cryptic query that the movie holds the most interest for the longest duration. As Marshall and Rachel come closer to uncovering the truth, their closest colleagues at the station begin to die, all while Simon remains jailed. For his part, Fletcher gives a commanding and doggedly dedicated performance as a deeply demented madman, moaning, wailing and drooling in a way you couldn’t ever quantify as “acting.” He does go overboard with the histrionics in a scene or two, but for the most part, Fletcher makes Simon genuinely disturbing, scarily unhinged, and pretty unpredictable.

That is, until the third act arrives. When it comes time to answer the key question in which the dramatic thrust of the story relies on, Raymond resorts to a wincingly clichéd novelty to explain it all away, one that threatens to undo all the good that proceeds it. It ultimately doesn’t, again thanks to the performances before and after the twist, but what starts off with such gripping promise sort of loses its way in the end with this one added absurdity that would certainly suffice as a midseason TV episode, but one that feels too played out for a first-rate cinematic thriller. This twist, as well as the subsequent finale, is a simple contrivance we’ve seen before in movies of this ilk. It doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable up until that point, but Raymond fails to nail the ending in a both a truly scintillating and satisfactory fashion, especially given the promissory strength of the first half of the film.

All told, NIGHT HUNTER is below the standard of Kingsley and Tucci, yet for a moderately budgeted feature debut, a slight cut above most of its kind. It’s aptly acted by all involved and assuredly shot by DP Michael Barrett (KISS KISS BANG BANG, TED), and even adds a unique wrinkle or two to the serial killer subgenre. But the movie ultimately damns itself by depending on a tired gimmick as a pivotal dramatic crutch before ending a bit bathetically.

Source: Arrow in the Head

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.