Medieval-horror was not something that I thought I needed in my life. Then, I checked out the Shudder Exclusive The Head Hunter. Written and directed by Jordan Downey, with co-writer Kevin Stewart, the film is quiet, a little brutal, and atmospheric. In it, a quiet and fierce medieval warrior protects the realm from monsters and the occult. While moving on the outskirts of the kingdom, his monster hunting is on full display. Mounting his kills with wooden stakes on his well, his gruesome collection of heads is missing only one — the monster that killed his daughter years ago. The Head Hunter‘s focus is this monster hunting knight. Driven by revenge, he travels on horseback looking for the monster. When his second chance arrives, it’s far more horrifying than he ever imagined.
Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect from The Head Hunter, at an hour and 11-minutes long, I was hesitant that the film would tell a complete and dynamic story. That said, the visuals from the trailer were enough to catch my eye and I’m extremely happy that they did. The film itself is atmospheric, using the sounds of the settings, water, wind, breath, and fire to build a world that is cold and vacant. But in its creatures, The Head Hunter roars to life with their screeches and close-ups of their bodies that break the tranquil, if not ominous wild landscapes. The isolation of the film helps the sound design shine. The smallest movements of bones, leather, or the squishing of bloody flesh are so pronounced that they have the power of dialogue.
The story in The Head Hunter is a visual one, which makes the execution of the creatures so pivotal. Instead of dialogue, we’re shown the story, with words coming in to accentuate the picture that has already been laid in front of us. With only four actors on the cast list, Father (Christopher Rygh), Daughter (Cora Kaufman), Jakke (Ciro), and The Head (Aisha Ricketts) it navigates a tight space. The film uses the land and the characters’ interactions with it to build tension.
Additionally, the story is told through Father’s eyes. He narrates as the camera pans over the world. We watch his process of handling a kill, seeing more of his methodology and his attention to small things, which makes the ending all the more fascinating. We see the guilt of his daughter’s death, we see an almost mundane life of violence and monsters, and it’s all too engrossing to look away. In fact, the choice to not show the monster fights in great detail lets us fill in the details while also keeping the film from going too camp. Given the design of the heads brought, back it could have easily gone that way.
The beauty of the film is in the details. From the costuming to the set design of the cabin, it all feels dirty, old, and ancient. To put it simply, this film is equal parts beauty and metal. The graphic close-ups of wounds and the heads bring the latter while the roaring landscapes bring the former. At its heart, this isn’t Gwen. It is above all else a medieval horror in all of its gory glory and of course, a creature feature. At only a little over an hour runtime, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I am blown away by the power in the film that comes from its silence and its imagery. That being said, the brevity of the film means there are many questions that the film ends on.
Overall, The Head Hunter continues Shudder’s streak of acquiring unique genre films and it’s a great watch for the cold holidays. The acting is superb and the choice of keeping the film focused on showing the audience, not telling us the story is masterful. From the creatures to the lore, the decisions are some of my favorite I’ve seen this year. And, the ending is one that I definitely didn’t see coming.
The Head Hunter is streaming exclusively on Shudder beginning December 5, 2019.
The Head Hunter
Overall, The Head Hunter continues Shudder’s streak of acquiring unique genre films and it’s a great watch for the cold holidays. The acting is superb and the choice of keeping the film focused on showing the audience, not telling us the story is masterful.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.