THE HEAD HUNTER (2018)
Directed by Jordan Downey
Written by Kevin Stewart, Jordan Downey
Starring Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman
Find out more about this film here
One of the best horror films of the year is THE HEAD HUNTER. It is a take no prisoners riff on fairy tales and fantasy, set in a grimy and gross world filled with mud, blood, and sinew. While kept budgetarily low, Jordan Downey manages to make a monumentally great film about revenge, axes, and monsters.
The unnamed warrior referred to only as Father in the credits (and played by Christopher Rygh) is a loner, living on the outskirts of a large kingdom. Occasionally, he will get a message arrow that alerts him of the presence of some kind of monster entering the realm. This task is always met with Father’s axe as he is determined to kill all monsters in his path, specifically the one who killed his daughter long ago. When that very monster returns, he sets out for the battle to end all battles, not giving a care whether he lives or dies—only that the monster’s head will one day decorate his wall of severed monster heads.
It’s a shame horror and fantasy don’t come together that often because I think when done well, it can be a powerful combo. Despite a lackluster ending of the series, GAME OF THRONES combined the two genres rather well with horrifying deaths, zombies, and fire breathing dragons. But instead of taking it to the epic scope of GOT, THE HEAD HUNTER tells a small, intimate, and harrowing tale that resounds loudly and violently. Not since the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE have I seen such chilling and authentically lived in set design than in this film. Everything seems to be covered in some kind of dirt, blood, or mixture of both. The warrior lives only for revenge and therefore doesn’t really have time for cleanliness or order. The only care he takes is in preserving his body from injury (implementing a strange potion made of some pretty gnarly things) and nailing monster heads to his wall once they’ve been defeated.
Simplicity is the key word for THE HEAD HUNTER. There is very little dialog in this film, yet what filmmaker Jordan Downey does so well is communicate this entire fantastic and grimy world. Downey gives us all we need to know. This is a world populated by monsters. There is a man known for killing monsters who is fueled by revenge to kill the one who took one of his own. It is that simplicity that was captured so well in PREDATOR as a perfect man vs. nature tale. I don’t think the similarity between those two movies is a mistake as the armor the lead wears in THE HEAD HUNTER is very similar to the armor of the Predator. But filmed on such a small budget, Downey keeps the camera in close. Only giving us what we need to know in order to follow the story. The monsters themselves are shown, but not in full. But the effectiveness of their awe-inspiring horror is communicated in every drop of sweat, gob of spit, and chunk of gristle the camera instead focuses upon.
There are very few moments wasted in THE HEAD HUNTER. It is a breezy film, clocking in just around an hour and fifteen minutes. But Downey and writer Kevin Stewart prove that runtime doesn’t matter when you pack your film with so much grit and action. Bound to be a cult classic and hopefully the start of a long run of genre films from these two talented filmmakers, THE HEAD HUNTER is not to be missed for those who like their gore sopping, their action brutal, and their fantasy adorned with some sharp, sharp teeth!