A Father (Christopher Rygh) sits in the snow suddenly brought out of a stunted sleep by strange noises in the wild woods that spread all around him. At his side lie’s his Daughter (Cora Kaufman) the only thing that means something to him in this harsh and unforgiving world. He would do anything to protect her from the monsters, anything to keep her safe, anything.
Moving forwards in time we find that sadly anything wasn’t enough and now the bearded brute lives alone having lost the most precious thing to him at the hands of one of the myriad of mutated and murderous beasts that inhabit the wretched realm.
Engulfed by guilt and remorse the ageing warrior has devoted his life to one thing now and one thing only, the destruction of any and all monsters. Receiving his assassination assignments from a messenger from high above him in the hulking castle, the medieval warrior suits up and heads out on horseback to slay whatever sinister creature plagues the kingdom.
Returning each time covered in blood, mud and gapping wounds the grizzled goliath uses a magical balm to heal himself before impaling yet another head onto his gruesome trophy wall which he has covered in the vicious visages of his fallen victims.
As the days loop in a seemingly never ending pattern of eat, sleep and defeat the head hunter wonders if any monster will ever sate his desire for revenge or out match him in battle and end his wretched existence. One day however things change and the target he is tasked to take down brings a shiver to his soul. The monster who killed his daughter is back and now he must end it.
Stark and stunning from start to finish The Head Hunter is a spectacular piece of filmmaking totally transporting the audience to a expertly crafted world full of epic landscapes, harsh conditions and man eating monsters. A triumph of minimalistic filmmaking in a genre that you would think this would be impossible it is all about what you don’t see and somehow this tactic works wonderfully.
Making so much from so little director Jordan Downey opts for artistry over effects, evoking the mood and majesty of the magical medieval period perfectly. Glimpses of giants, shadows of dragons and most importantly the aftermath of the majority of the warriors battles are all we see allowing our imagination to run riot and the beautiful and brutal world to remain full realised without being spoiled by budgetary restrictions or dodgy CGI.
The sets are spectacular as is the costume and prop design and the attention to detail on these deftly distracts from the lack of bigger more grandiose moments. In fact this decision by Downey, who co-wrote the script and story with his cinematographer Kevin Stewart, to focus on the small seemingly mundane elements of monster hunting is a smart and original one giving us an intimate look into the main characters life.
Impressively there is only one character throughout the majority of the movie and Christopher Rygh is captivating as the nameless and mainly silent hunter whose hardened heart has taken him down a path of self destruction. Relentlessly battling beats to the point of exhaustion with barely a break it is as if he is willing each of them to end his misery, a misery we see clearly when he speaks to his daughters grave in the garden of his cabin.
The Head Hunter has a wicked trick up its sleeve in the third act as the plot pattern we have come to expect is turned on its head quite literally and the battle worn warrior is faced with a far more frightening challenge. Here tension is everything and the atmosphere of dread increases tenfold as we are driven down dark passages and claustrophobic caves for of shadows and sinister sounds.
Interestingly the end battle is where the majority of the special effects appear and the audience’s patience is paid off at last with the appearance of the terrible thing that took our heroes child. Gruelling and disturbing the confrontation is action packed but also emotionally powerful as the hunter becomes the hunted in a final stand that is both cathartic and terrifying for everyone involved.
With elements of The Witcher, Game of Thrones and several other mega budget medieval monster movies or shows The Head Hunter exceeds them all due to its innovation and creativity all of which was achieved on a far small budget proving talent and imagination really can’t be bought.
Merging astounding visual flair with a heartfelt emotionally moving performance The Head Hunter is near perfection and an amazing directorial debut. Although its running time is a little too short it is one of the most effective and affecting horror films you will see.