The Head Hunter (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: A head-collecting Viking hunter wages a war of vengeance with the grotesque zombie-troll that killed his daughter.

REVIEW: They say necessity is the mother of invention. If true, you’d be seriously hard-pressed to find a better cinematic example than Jordan Downey’s brusquely muscular and absorbingly atmospheric new no-budget triumph THE HEAD HUNTER (WATCH IT HERE) – which not only thoroughly betrays its paltry $30,000 price-tag, but overcomes its monastic dialogue-free plot en route to becoming one of the most remarkable genre outings of the year so far. Indeed, movies this good should never cost so little, but Downey has defied the odds and mounted such an impressive effort here that every badly made, over-bloated and exorbitantly budgeted blockbuster ought to take note. Honestly, you can tell me this flick was made from anywhere from $3-13 million and I wouldn’t disbelieve it for a second. $30,000? Absolutely astounding! With just two actors, about 30 words spoken over a consistently gripping 70 minutes, Downey achieves both the intimacy of two-handed dual, as well as the expansive sweep of a Games of Thrones-style epic. This is achieved with gorgeously indelible cinematography and aptly attuned sound-design, the startling sights and sounds of which combine to give us harshest and most menacing medieval horror outings in many a moon. No doubt about it, THE HEAD HUNTER shoots for the dome and doesn’t miss!

Father (Christopher Rygh in his big-screen debut) mourns the death of his Daughter (Cora Kaufman), overlooking her snowy gravesite in the wintertime. The Viking warrior is shown to be a prolific hunter who adorns his quarters with an array of terrifying totems made from the decollated heads, as if trophies, of all his victims. We gather through flashback that Father’s most prized possession is the centerpiece skull, which does not appear to be human. Instead, the grotesque ghoul has a spindly frame, skeletal façade with a wide jaw and fishlike teeth. It’s a gnarly and much-welcome monster mutation that’s just as alarming aurally is it is visually. We learn this skeleton belongs to the “Troll” responsible for killing Daughter. Father has already avenged her death by taking the head of the odious beast. The one-note plot is driven forward by a sole scenario, which is that, thanks to a mysterious elixir that accidentally spills on the remains of the Troll, the Troll reanimates and comes hunting Father in a return vow of revenge. Worse, the Troll intends to desecrate Daughter’s remains. When Father finally pieces together that he is now the hunted rather than hunter, an engrossingly eldritch exhibition ensues.

The believability of the world Downey thrusts us into cannot be overstated. Despite everything in its disfavor – the time and resources to make the film, the vaporous plot, the absurdity of a troll-beast – the whole of THE HEAD HUNTER works exactly as intended. The visual splendor of DP Kevin Stewart’s (UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB) lavish imagery admirably puts us in a time and place that feels real and authentic every step of the way. The epoch evoked feels fully lived in, be it via the darkened caves or Father’s dingy candle-lit shack, or the sprawling outdoor panoramas. Same goes for the excellent ear of sound-design team lead by Eric Wegener (STAR TREK BEYOND, SPIDER MAN: HOMECOMING). With a movie so bereft of dialogue, sound becomes a key aspect of augmenting the entire experience. I watched the flick via online screener and still came away impressed by the way the sound FX in the film added to the horrific nature of the story. Just as Downey knows when to show the Troll sparingly and when to leave the rest to our imagination (the old JAWS method), Wegener and the sound-team do the same to create a sense of suspense and escalating tension. The sounds the Troll makes in particular is worthy of note, as it’s off-screen hissing, cracking and clattering across the outdoor terrain is truly a unsettling touch.

While the midsection of the film sort of wanders, ponders, and nearly squanders its wonderful premise, the conclusion of THE HEAD HUNTER redeems itself as one of the most undeniably memorable moments. Not only does the scintillating showdown between Father and Troll wholly satisfy in precisely the manner you’d hope for, the final shot of the film goes one step beyond to leave us breathless with one lasting nihilistic gut-punch. Again, these feats would impress with even a modest amount of filmmaking resources, but the production was so pared down on this apparent DYI labor of love that principal photography involved only five people on set, many of which warded several different departmental hats. In addition to directing, co-writing and co-producing, Downey served as makeup artist and special FX advisor, while a team effort with DP and co-writer Stewart and producer Ricky Fosheim was used to overcome the absence of a production designer. And to still end up with such a refined result that enthralls and entertains all the way through is next to impossible, which makes the success all the sweeter. It’s for this reason I feel obliged to up the critical score from what would otherwise be a highly recommendable 8/10 to a must-see 9/10. Honestly, if it were ever possible for a $30K movie to be one the best movies of the year, THE HEAD HUNTER could be it!

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.