The Head Hunter provides pulpy, spirited fun in a dour hybrid of fantasy and horror that solidifies Jordan Downey as a fine low-budget talent.
Father (Christopher Rygh) hunts monsters. And when he kills them, he lops off their heads to skewer on the wall of his remote cabin, where chained and padlocked jars of a gloopy homebrewed fluid heal his battle wounds and the window shutter sags ominously open and closed. The Head Hunter, far from being an unimaginative title, is a refreshingly up-front one; here’s a lean, mean mash-up of fantasy and horror, with an expansive, outdoorsy atmosphere and the spirit of an old-school gore-soaked creature-feature. It’s a grim good time.
Father is out for revenge. His daughter (Cora Kaufman) was killed by a particularly devilish creature, and there’s no head he wants to mount more than that one. (The ghoul, rendered in a combination of practical and digital effects, isn’t much more than a head anyway.) The script — co-written by director Jordan Downey and cinematographer Kevin Stewart — gets this across with a welcome economy in an almost wordless first half, during which Father goes about his daily business in the chilly, naturalistically-shot woodland that provides most of the film’s setting.
Rygh makes for a compelling physical presence, both here and when the film takes a turn in its latter half towards more explicitly tense territory, where the stakes are more obvious and immediate. But what’s most impressive about The Head Hunter is how capably it makes use of its pocket-money budget; staging action off-screen without the audience feeling short-changed, and masking a lot of Father’s cat-and-mouse game with natural shadows and camera trickery. While some of this is noticeable, none of it feels out-of-place; it’s a minimalism masterclass, especially when held up against the last micro-budget film I reviewed.
Downey is a talent, and The Head Hunter is a fine — if perhaps slightly too brief — exercise in pulp genre filmmaking that’ll impress anyone who sees it with reasonable expectations.