Hunter Hunter, the third feature by writer/director Shawn Linden, is one of those rare films which manages to elude classification right until the jaw-dropping final frame.
It follows a married couple (Devon Sawa – Final Destination, Camille Sullivan – The Disappearance) living off the land in the remote wilderness. Raising their young daughter (Summer H. Howell – Cult of Chucky) with hunting as their sole source of income is stretching the family thin, and the reappearance of a dangerous wolf that eluded them last winter is driving them to absolute desperation. When the father ventures into the depths of the woods to catch the elusive animal, mother and daughter are left to fend for themselves – and they’re not alone.
Linden understands that the remote landscape is as much of a character as his talented cast, and wields that philosophy like a straight razor.
Kyle had the opportunity to speak with Shawn about the writing and shooting processes of Hunter Hunter.
I understand you shot on location in Winnipeg. I’m not intimately familiar with the area myself, but from what I can see in the movie, it must have been a harsh kind of environment to shoot in. Can you tell me a bit about the experience on shooting on location like that?
Well, you’re right. The movie depicts a really harsh environment, so we have to go out to those environments to capture it on film. It was really tough.
There’s very thin supply lines when you’re that far out from cities or even towns. There was often no running water or electricity; it was basically like camping with a camera. So I’m really thankful for everybody, especially the cast, who are really experienced actors and are likely used to the kind of amenities that come with that while they’re shooting.
To think that they just jumped headfirst into going out into the wilderness and pretty much being at the mercy of the elements! We did get it full force. We shot through rain; we had a historic snowstorm.
On one day, we were fortunate enough to have finished all of our exteriors, because we were shooting in a forest and every single leaf on every tree that you’d see in the movie had been completely stripped off overnight. It was a beautiful, picturesque place.
Something that I always find really interesting in cinema is the setting of the film being almost a character itself. That’s very much the case in films where you’re directly dealing with nature, be it the forest or wild animals. How much of that kind of perspective was going on in the creative process?
It was a very conscious attempt. We really wanted to make the harshness of the environment palpable, and the way that the realities of the wilderness are gradually closing in on them. That was always what we were aiming for.
One of the biggest strengths of Hunter Hunter is that the audience won’t have an absolute certainty of what direction it’s going in. Just when you think you know what kind of ride you’re in for, it doesn’t tip its hand too much. That keeps us on the edge of our seats so well. Was that one of the most important elements for you?
For sure, and that’s why it makes it hard to talk about the film. The first bit of twist where you start to not really know where this is all going happens in the first twenty minutes. So it’s hard to explain things in the context of the film.
But I have always seen the movie as a mystery with some really horrific elements to it, which by default would kind of put it into the horror category. The fun of it is playing the audience and providing them with information that the characters don’t know.
So you’re expecting that, you know, ”don’t go in there!”. That kind of strategy has been old and tested and true. We also played a lot with the restriction of perspective; of only allowing people to know what those characters know.
So when somebody’s gone and they don’t come back home, you’re not getting any clues, you’re just getting more absence. And that really gets the audience’s mind going.
It works very well, especially in terms of amping up the tension throughout – the small pieces of the puzzles insidiously stacking up on top of each other.
Awesome. I’m glad to see what’s landing, I’ve seen the movie too many times to be surprised [laughs].
As you said, the shoot did have its challenges. Do you feel that by the end of the production, you’d learned any major lessons that you’d be taking forward into whatever your next project might be?
It’s hard to pick anything out, because it was so transformative for me. This was my third feature, and every single one has changed me as a filmmaker.
Usually when I see things – especially by the end of the editing process – all I can see are the things that I want to take back, or the days that I wish I had again. Scenes that wound up being on the cutting room floor that would have, if we’d known beforehand that it may not have worked out, dedicated a little bit more resources on something else.
It’s always the case when you’re dealing with a low-budget film; there’s not much room for error or for surprises. And so the allocation of those resources becomes all the more important.
So if I learned anything, it’s the practical part of things that would allow me to avoid those mistakes that hopefully nobody sees. Often they aren’t present in the movie, because they weren’t really executed in the way that they needed to be.
There’s always things that I’ll notice, and go back through every frame or every shot and it’ll take me back to that day when it was going on. I have a bit of an obsessive mind over those things.
That can pay off, but it can also be a frustrating thing to reign in. But you’ve made a fantastic film. The final act is one of the most memorable edge-of-your-seat experiences of the year, so my hat’s off to you.
I really appreciate that. If the ending can do what we set out to do, I think it’ll be a story that people will enjoy.
Hunter Hunter is now available on VOD and digital platforms.