If like me, Straight Outta Kanto, you’re still suffering from Game of Thrones related withdrawal symptoms (and a little Season 8 PTSD) then 2018s “The Head Hunter” will staunch your gaping emotional wounds. (For at least 72 minutes!)
Starring a cast of technically three: Cora Kaufman as the deceased daughter, and voice actor Aisha Ricketts as “The Head”, The Head Hunter primarily focuses solely on buff, beardy Christopher Rygh and his plight as being the only monster bounty hunter in the village. (That’s a Little Britain joke!) Set during medieval times and an indeterminate Viking-esque location, this fictitious land, while seemingly devoid of any other humans, is crawling with fearsome creatures, beasts and trolls. There’s even a fluttering airborne hint of potential dragon activity.
Living in isolation with only his daughter’s grave and faithful horse Jakke for company, our muscular monster hunting anti-hero is as grim as the landscape. And this landscape is GRIM. Stunning sweeping panoramic shots of the beautiful but barren mountainous region leave the viewer breath-taken and in awe. Reminiscent of Middle Earth or the depths of Iceland, this film is actually shot entirely on location in both Portugal and California!
LARPers and history nerds would adore watching the scenes of Head Hunter performing his daily, traditional medieval household tasks such as chopping wood, carving an array of weapons and other such ye olde time manly activities. Such was the historical authenticity of ‘Hunter’s’ daily life, it was like witnessing a living history display from our local Viking museum ‘Dublinia’ here in Dublin, Ireland.
However, life isn’t all domestic bliss, or rather, domestic brooding when you’re in essence a One Man “Night’s Watch.” The occasional ominous, droning horn from a nearby castle indicates that it’s time for ‘Hunter’ to get off his moody arse and go fight some Bad Guys. Maybe one day the Bad Guy will be the very monster that killed ‘Hunter’s’ young daughter? A vengeful man can hope…
My one reservation initially about this movie was that the majority of the monster fighting action happens off screen. We’ll see ‘Hunter’ suiting up in his super cool, customized armor (a Cosplayer’s wet dream) and riding off to the fight and then we’ll see him time and again staggering back to his hut, mortally wounded and carrying the head of his defeated foe. Yet none of the action in between is shown. Imagine watching Jaws, for example, and watching the build up to fighting the shark and then the aftermath with the dead shark, but none of the actual killing of the shark!
That being said, the make-up effects of the human wounds and the slain brutes is, at times, stomach churning. The walls of ‘Hunter’s’ shack are adorned with the impaled, severed heads of the bounties he has hunted. Truly gruesome and grotesque creatures who are almost reminiscent of a 1980s creature feature rogues gallery. Certain scenes towards the end are also clearly heavily influenced by both Ray Harryhausen and The Evil Dead.
While I feel that the limited cast, crew and lack of battle scenes is definitely a cost issue more so than an artistic choice – fun fact, the film makers used almost entirely discount Halloween decorations, masks and weapons that they then re-purposed and pimped up – this movie cannot be referred to as typically low budget by anyone’s standards.
The cinematography is striking and slick with exquisitely clean transitions. Great use of drone technology highlights not only the eerie location but as a storytelling device to emphasize ‘Hunter’s’ isolation. Despite the quirky, cheaply sourced props, the scenery and equipment used in this film all look genuine and professional.
Lead star Christopher Rygh is thoroughly engaging in his compelling portrayal as the tragic, bereaved outcast Head Hunter. His pain and grief is tangible throughout his understated performance.
The muted colour palette of hard, cold greys and frigid greens with vibrant, fresh blood the only relief, (coupled with the chilling, sparse sound-scape) reflects the grim reality of ‘Hunter’s continual ordeal. He’s a man that asks for no sympathy, yet watching him wrestle with his brutal existence and agonized love for his lost child, the viewer has no other choice but to root for him on his path of revenge and bloodshed. (He’s also very, very good looking – that probably helps)
The lack of characters, dialogue, high production values and seemingly slow pace throughout The Head Hunter may initially alienate more instant gratification seeking viewers. I, on the other hand, found the lack of endless talking and over population of the cast was a welcome relief and allowed me to fall distraction-free in to a false sense of security that I knew the direction this movie was going in.
The Head Hunter officially has one of the best end scene plot twists I’ve seen of any movie in the last decade, for that alone I implore you to stay the course. But mind your head! Available now on Blu-Ray Disc from 101 Films and features a variety of interesting behind the scenes extras.
Straight Outta Kanto is the nerdy nom de plume of international horror-shock musician, illustrator and radio personality Venus de Vilo.
Straight Outta Kanto is a podcast and review blog dedicated to bringing it’s audience the warped and weirdest in nerd culture, nightmare fuel and 90s/00s nostalgia.
Champion of the Shurikon 2018 Pokémon League competition, certified VGC Dragon Gym Leader and CEO of Pokémon Fan Club Ireland, Straight Outta Kanto is an unapologetic otaku and psychotic J-Horror fanatic.