Release Date: 2018.
Director: Jordan Downey.
Written By: Kevin Stewart and Jordan Downey.
Cast: Christopher Rygh and Cora Kaufman.
Running Time: 1 hour and 12 minutes.
“When you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Those ever wise words were evidently lost on Father, the ruthless and vengeful warrior played by Christopher Rygh in The Head Hunter. Produced for the messily sum of approximately $30,000 and a cast, crew of five people, The Head Hunter proves that you don’t have to have a budget akin to the gross domestic product of a small European nation to create a fascinating film.
Everything about The Head Hunter is elementary and that is why it is so exceptional. When something so straightforward is executed with such precision, simplicity is indeed the ultimate sophistication.
The story itself is more like Venture or Gauntlet than Skyrim or The Elder Scrolls though. Daughter (Cora Kaufman) is slain by a monstrous beast. A grieving and remorseful Father buries her pledging to kill the creature responsible for her death. In his quest to find the beast, Father slays deadly and dangerous creature after dangerous and deadly creature, decapitating them and mounting their heads as trophies on a wall of spikes in his cabin.
Take THAT, Predator!
Father has a clever trick up his bracers though. He augments his expert fighting skills with a healing salve that miraculously repairs even the most life-threatening of wounds. The unfortunate side effect is that it makes him piss and barf out burning black tar. Yech!
Besides an archer (Chad McClellan, a gaffer on the film) seen briefly signaling to Father from a distance, Father and Daughter are the only two human characters in The Head Hunter. Consequently, you can fit all of the film’s dialogue on a sticky note or the back of a business card. This puts tremendous pressure on Rygh, in his first lead role, to express most of his thoughts and feelings through facial expressions and gestures since there are so few words to do so. A lesser actor would not be able to shoulder such a burden but Rygh’s remarkable performance has us sympathizing and understanding everything the tormented Father is going through without him saying a solitary word.
The Head Hunter is only an hour and 12 minutes long as well so there is no time at all for long-winded expositions. Director and co-writer Jordan Downey has to keep his eyes on the road and his foot on the gas for the entire film and he does. It is an engaging ride.
One important thing to know though is that because of a budget that amounts to perhaps one decent but not great performance car or 3,333 bottles of premium Canadian maple syrup or 3.3 per cent of the total salary paid to Robert Downey Jr. for Captain America: Civil War, none of the monster battles are shown except for the final one. Unfortunately, all we ever see is the aftermath. We have to imagine the rest. For some, I can see this being a total deal breaker. Strangely enough though, The Head Hunter is still thrilling even without any of those scenes and that is because of Rygh’s acting, Downey’s story and camera work. One cannot help but to speculate how much better the film would have been though with one or two visceral fight scenes, those familiar sights and sounds of metal slicing flesh; of teeth and claws rending bone.
The movie is filled with striking and sweeping shots of the Soutelo Mourisco countryside in Portugal which measures up to any shots you would see in those Peter Jackson films where a halfling spends three movies and nine hours walking through a volcano without any shoes or boots. This is just another example of the filmmakers making mind-blowing movie magic out of two bottle caps and a ball of lint.
What Downey and the cast and crew smaller than the buskers’ rendition of Hamlet have accomplished here is extraordinary for what they had to work with. The Head Hunter is a master class of how to expertly stretch resources to their absolute limit. You really don’t need deep pockets to make a captivating film. The one question I have though is if this is what Downey can produce with bubble gum wrappers and paper clips, what could he do with real resources at his disposal? Perhaps one day we will find out.
Five off-camera kills.
Stabbed to death.
Father: I always thought I could protect her.
Father: Now I wait for it to return.
Pints of Blood