Written and directed by Shawn Linden, Hunter Hunter is centered around a family of fur trappers living in a remote area who find themselves contending with the threat of a rogue wolf and other dangers that are lurking in the depths of the wilderness that surrounds them. But when a mysterious man shows up injured on their property, his arrival only fuels their paranoia, and tensions escalate, culminating in an unforgettable finale that left this writer’s jaw on the proverbial floor.
Hunter Hunter stars Devon Sawa, Camille Sullivan, Nick Stahl, and Summer Howell, and will arrive in select theaters and will be available via both digital and on demand this Friday, December 18th, courtesy of IFC Midnight. Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Linden, who discussed his approach to the film’s storyline, capturing the natural elements of the world of Hunter Hunter, collaborating with his cast, and more.
Fantastic job on the film, Shawn. There are a few things that I really appreciated about the realism of this film. My mom's family is from West Virginia, so I used to go hunting with my grandfather, and those scenes felt extremely realistic. I also really loved the idea of this family that time has left behind. They're living this existence that really isn't where we're at in modern days. Was there something in particular that inspired your story for Hunter Hunter and exploring the lives of these characters who live out an existence most of us cannot even begin to understand?
Shawn Linden: You're absolutely right about everything that you were saying about the family. It is an outdated way of living, and we definitely wanted to show that in the story, but also, I wanted to really play up the wholesomeness of that type of life. And by wholesome, I mean sincere in operating as a family unit, maybe more so than we do in a more civilized environment. This family's depending on their responsibilities, and there is a division of labor that exists because there's a utility to it, not because there's any prejudices involved. It's just a division of labor that each of them depends on to raise another human being. I wanted to get back to the essence of a family unit and of having to depend on each other and of the fact that this interdependence is not as represented, maybe, in our modern family lives. Most of us are not dependent, necessarily, on each other for our immediate survival, like the threat of getting eaten by a bear.
There's this discussion that happens very early in this film with Camille and Devon on the porch, and they're trying to figure out their place in this world, and I really liked how Anne says, "This is a hard life." And it's interesting, because these are people who chose this life. They weren't forced into it. This is just their way of living, and yet it's very brutal, but there is a sense of love between them, and there's a really fine line you have to walk in this movie, which I think you do it well. Can you discuss finding that juxtaposition between a family unit that's very keyed into each other and yet there's a lot of brutality circling them in different ways between the things that they need to do to exist and things that come up later in the film, as well?
Shawn Linden: Well, life is difficult everywhere, and it is particularly difficult for them in the middle of nowhere. And so, when you think back to their early relationship before their child came along, they both assumed that difficulty. They've accepted that that's going to be their way of life until something changes that way, and they've elected to do it. But when Renee is born, suddenly she was born into this world that's maybe not conducive to raising a child. And so, it presents a brand-new set of difficulties for this family of rearing another human life that had no choice but to come into the world where she did, and once that person exists, there's a whole new set of problems, and it's the reason why they got as far as they did. But as Renee is growing up, she’s growing up into somebody who needs school and who needs some kind of social interaction in order to survive, because essentially the whole movie is about being able to evolve and survive. For Renee to evolve and survive in the modern world, she can't be taught strictly this old-world stuff. So that's where the irreconcilable difficulty arises, from the fact that they're not just thinking for themselves anymore, they're thinking for somebody else who's particularly vulnerable.
I appreciated that you guys were able to give Hunter Hunter a very naturalistic look with how you shot and lit the film. Can you discuss how you and your team came together to achieve this look?
Shawn Linden: From the very beginning, all the way back to the script phase, we were trying to adhere to authenticity. That carried over into production with the art department and the design departments, too. If we've never seen it done before in common practice, then we wouldn't have it anywhere around. So, it's just all those little things that have an imperceptible effect that when they're all in there; it just gives an air of authenticity, and that's what we were going for. I guess the two main pushes and pulls of the script were the inhospitability of something like The Revenant, where you're actually feeling how harsh this weather is and it's very natural and very, very realistic and gritty.
And on the opposite end, this is also a fairy tale about predators. So, it has a very lyrical quality, and the camera never really stops moving and has a song-like or a tale-like movement to it. And the design itself was meant to be timeless. But again, getting back to the fairy tale aspect of things, we wanted there to be a timeless quality where you're not really sure when it takes place, and it doesn't really matter to the story, either. So, it was the push and pull between those two of being really gritty and realistic, and then of being almost fable-like. It's got the burly woodsman and the enchanted forest and the big bad wolf and the maiden in distress, although I'm not sure if you can call Camille, at any point in her life, a maiden in distress.
Speaking of Camille, everybody in Hunter Hunter gives a great performance here, but Camille is just an absolute force in this film, and there's so much that falls on the shoulders of her character, Anne, throughout the story, in terms of the decisions that she has to make in regard to their survival. She's just so damn good in this movie. How was the process of working with her and your other actors for this project?
Shawn Linden: The degree to which Camille saved this production, I couldn't finish talking about in the time that we have together, but she literally saved it in every possible way. From the minute that she was involved, it was like a weight that had fallen off my shoulders, and I realized, "We've got somebody who's going to have the chops to take this on." The big thing, the through line that Camille and I had with the character, was that there's a Nietzsche quote that to have the strength, you have to need it. You need to need the strength in order to possess it, and that's what she does in this. She rises to the occasion.
Like I said, at the beginning, there's a very strict division of labor for a very good reason, and as the story goes on, she has to assume more duties that weren't typically hers, to make up for the gap when her husband is off hunting the wolf. That sense of resiliency, it shines through Camille as a person from the moment that you meet her, and it was absolutely necessary, and I'm glad that it shows through in the script. The same bits apply to all of the cast, too. Devon was really obsessed, in the best way possible, of getting things right and of making things familiar to him. And Summer Howell, who plays Renee, was originally written as a young boy until I saw her and her audition and then quickly had to rewrite the entire script so that it would facilitate a slightly older girl, because she had the absolute talent to pull that off.
It was the same thing with Nick. We just didn't have as much time with Nick as I did with the rest of the family, but he'd come in while we were shooting. He's such a professional, though, where everything is second nature to him. He could just step up on set and we could get right into the conversations about the character and he would suck it up like a leech. All of those people that I had to depend on really did a fantastic job, and I could not be more grateful.