More than just a calling card for a fantastic new filmmaking team
With somewhere around 100 words spoken in the entire duration of the film, and just about as many gallons of blood spilled, The Head Hunter is the truest form of lean and mean cinema.
A nameless warrior (Christopher Rygh credited only as “Father”) goes about his solitary business of monster killing as the camera watches on. We don’t actually see very many of these monsters, mind you, as the rumored budget of The Head Hunter is somewhere around $30,000. But we do see their remains. Trophies of monsters long vanquished adorn the walls of our warrior’s home. Alone and with a score to settle, Father occupies himself with the creation of potions that heal him and prepare him for the next battle. When a distant howl is heard, he will suit up and square off against the latest creature threatening the vaguely defined kingdom our protagonist lives on the outskirts of. There’s one creature in particular that he is after: the creature that took his daughter from him. Most of the words spoken in the film are Father to himself, or Father to his long-deceased daughter. It seems his only reason for living is vengeance against the monster who claimed his daughter’s life.
Few words, less dollars, and even fewer characters do not a slight movie make, however, if the filmmaking team is creative. And man… writer/director/editor Jordan Downey and writer/producer/DP Kevin Stewart sure do make the most of the resources they have. Probably most notably, for those skeptical of a film so shockingly inexpensive: The Head Hunter looks fantastic. Our solitary hero is clad in costuming that gives The Lord Of The Rings a run for its money. And the various creature designs and overall production value are laudable. While the world feels desolate and verging on apocalyptic, it also feels vast and expansive, with many sweeping vistas and environments explored. Most of the action takes place in and around Father’s home, but even his home is well designed and integral to the survival of this totally isolated man.
Are there limitations to what can be achieved with The Head Hunter? Sure. One notices when there are so few characters, or such little dialog. And you become aware of the distinct lack of screen time given to actual monsters whilst watching a movie about a monster hunter. The “Castaway Effect” might sour some viewers on The Head Hunter, as we really just watch one guy go about his lonely existence. None of those shortcomings diminished my own personal enjoyment or investment in the film, however. The smart script both creates a world which can be brought to life on a budget, and serves an actual function for a story about isolation and the futility of vengeance. The fact that it creates its own version of a world filled with horrible medieval magic and monsters will, I believe, draw in genre fans and engage them with a true medieval horror film with stakes and emotional weight.
And the final act really does go out of its way to create some true on screen action and monster thrills to compensate for the open space it leaves your brain to paint a visual picture of the action in the first two acts. I compare the feel of the early half of the film to the much-lauded video game Shadow Of The Colossus: an almost empty world, beautiful in its abandonment, and haunted by giant inexplicable creatures. As vengeance gets within tasting distance for Father, however, the tone becomes more claustrophobic and immediate. There’s even a bit of a Basket Case vibe to the final act, which I’ll leave at that.
I’m drawn to films like this with their own production mythology surrounding them. Oh, there’s a $30K fantasy film out there that’s actually awesome? I’m going to have to seek that out. So I was probably a mark for this all along. But The Head Hunter is more than just a calling card or a gimmick. It marks the genuine arrival of Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart (not to mention their entire team who composed music and did production design and built gore effects, etc) as filmmakers to keep an eye on. And it also completely works as a narrative divorced from the knowledge of its humble origins. It’s gorgeous, it’s mean, it’s smart, and it pulls zero punches as a hard fantasy tale.
True to its scrappy origins, The Head Hunter is only available on DVD and VOD, so no high def physical media option is available. I’m personally thrilled to own this DVD and while The Head Hunter probably looks even more fantastic in high def, it still looks pretty stunning in standard. There aren’t any special features to speak of on this DVD release either, but the filmmaking team asserts that there are many behind the scenes materials that may someday get to see the light of day. Support this film with a DVD purchase or a VOD download, I say. If a grassroots fanbase emerges, we’ll likely get to see a lot more material on how they accomplished this feat, and perhaps they’ll get a chance to create something new for us as well.
And I’m Out.
The Head Hunter is now available on DVD and Digital directly from the official website.