Thriller Movie Rule #117: Steer clear of old abandoned forts masquerading as nature reserves.
The plot summary on the DVD package, IMDb, and any other place you look online describes The Hunters as a high school coming-of-age horror flick. This description is not only grossly incorrect, but also does the movie a disservice. The Hunters isn’t some B-movie slasher along the lines of Friday the 13th. This is a smart thriller with good writing, and turns out to be a suspenseful delight from first time French director Chris Briant.
Iraq war veteran Le Saint (Chris Briant) — yes that’s his name — is the new officer on the block, working for loud mouth Police Chief Bernard (Terrence Knox, St. Elsewhere). “The Town,” as it’s called, has experienced 22 unexplained disappearances in the last two years and Le Saint is convinced the key to the case lies in an abandoned nature reserve called Fort Groben. Unfortunately, Chief Bernard thinks Le Saint’s talents can best be used elsewhere and gives him another, less than thrilling assignment. However, when Le Saint goes to Fort Groben against orders, he is trapped inside with a group of ruthless hunters whose prey aren’t the animals that inhabit the reserve, but the humans they lure there to kill.
I sat down with my tub of popcorn (okay it was really chocolate chip cookies) ready to endure a cheesy high school slash ’em up horror flick, but instead got an unorthodox thriller without a high schooler in sight. Bonus! The story opens with our hero Le Saint, wandering dazed and confused in a wooded area, the viewer thrown right into his nightmare without a clue as to where he is. This scene is followed by flashes of hunters firing their weapons at an unseen target, then a voice says calmly, “Did you get it?” I don’t know what “it” is or if they got “it,” all I know is that I’m hooked.
There’s an intriguing vagueness to The Hunters that should leave one feeling cold and flat, but that vagueness only adds to the tense feel of this thriller. You find out in the special features that the film was shot in France with an international cast, but the locations look and feel like some weird mythical hybrid of the United States and an unnamed European country; which also adds to the pleasant strangeness of the experience.
Almost from the very first frame, we know who the killers are and where the killings are taking place. This seems like it should be detrimental to any movie, but The Hunters manages to keep you interested by making the film much more than just your run-of-the-mill thriller. This is a character study told in the guise of a thriller. The character of Le Saint is the anchor and we see in flashbacks a terrible incident that occurred while he served in Iraq; he seems driven to solve this current case to make up for the loss he suffered. There isn’t a whole lot of backstory on Le Saint, just enough to know he’s running from a past he would rather forget. Briant is a French national and at times his thick accent is difficult to decipher, but he’s a likeable presence on screen and does a fine job of portraying Le Saint sympathetically. He also plays him with a quiet understated strength that makes you believe he would to take on a group of vicious killers.
The hunters are made up of guys who could be your neighbors or your co-workers, seemingly ordinary citizens with a blood lust for killing. In the same way real life news reports show the unassuming face of a brutal murderer, we see a group of normal looking individuals who are in truth cold blooded killers. Neutered and pathetic, they are looking for power and control in a life that has very little of either. English actor Steve Waddington (Sleepy Hollow) plays Ronny, one of the hunters starting to break under the strain of killing innocent people; go figure. His performance is top notch, as he slowly peels back the layers of his character and exposes the cracks in the man’s already fragile mental state.
There’s little interaction between Le Saint and the hunters, in fact there’s very little hunting; all the suspense comes from this cat and mouse game the two sides are playing. The result is a building tension that explores the psyche of each character, exposing not only their weaknesses but also some of the depths each side will go to in order to survive.
Dianna Argon (Glee) portrays Alice, a self-possessed young woman who becomes the object of Le Saint’s affections. Her role is a small one really, almost unnecessary, but she and Briant have a nice on screen chemistry. In earlier flashbacks, Le Saint recalls the face of a woman he obviously had feelings for in a previous life. We don’t know what became of her, but we see Le Saint’s desire to find that same connection with Alice. Argon’s performance is cool and understated; playing off of Le Saint’s restrained but nervous energy.
The Hunters is presented in standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 Surround audio. A fine DVD presentation, the images are easy to see, even in the night scenes, without the need to squint angrily at the screen; an ability that is sometimes necessary on a lesser quality DVD. Only one bonus feature is included; a 15-minute look at the making of the film.
While I really enjoyed The Hunters, I do have two small problems with the film. First, the synopsis is wrong everywhere you look, even on its own packaging. I don’t know how a studio let’s something this egregious happen. Secondly (and I admit that this is more of a pet peeve), The Hunters is marketed as if Dianna Argon is the star of the film. I know, what movie doesn’t promote itself in a way that will attract a large audience and her name is the most recognizable out of the whole cast, but what’s done here is too much to let slide. The star of The Hunters is director Chris Briant who plays Le Saint. Argon’s role adds up to about 15 minutes of the film’s 111 minute runtime. Moreover, the packaging and trailer puts Ms. Argon out front and center, as if she’s be the focal point of the story. So if you’re expecting to get your Glee fix while watching The Hunters, you’re going to be sorely disappointed; which is too bad, because it may negatively affect how you feel about a rather good film. So, tsk, tsk Lionsgate…I’m disappointed in you.
The Hunters is a strange little movie, very unorthodox but quite enjoyable. If this film is any indication, Chris Briant has talent as both a director and an actor. He took a story that could’ve been disturbingly dark and made it into an intriguing thriller that had me on the edge of my seat. In fact, I can envision Le Saint as a recurring character in a franchise of police action/thrillers. Ooh la la!