A medieval warrior’s gruesome collection of severed heads is missing only one – the monster that killed his daughter years ago.
Runtime: 72 minutes
Distributed by: Vertical Entertainment
Fantasy and Horror are two genres that don’t get mixed together often enough, and The Head Hunter does so brilliantly on a small budget of only $30,000. What the cast and crew were able to accomplish on such limited funds is pretty amazing. Every frame drips with atmosphere and tone which just adds to the superb world building they present on screen. I can’t tell you how often during the movie’s albeit short 72 minute run time I audibly exclaimed how that particular shot would look amazing framed on a wall or set as a desktop background on a computer. Every frame is full of life with the gloomy forests, dead trees, bubbling brooks and towering winter mountains filling up the spaces. The movie was filmed in California, Portugal and Norway and it’s absolutely beautiful. The cinematography, set design, props and just overall aesthetic are truly incredible. It’s all the more impressive when you learn that at any given time the cast and crew were composed of only around 5 people.
The story is pretty simple: set during a medieval fantasy age, a man professionally known as a Head Hunter spends his time slaying various monsters and beasts that plague the land while also trying to be a devoted father to his daughter. One day his daughter is killed by one of the monsters he’s contracted to hunt, and thus begins his long patient quest for revenge against the beast. Director Jordan Downey really shines in his presentation of this story through his camera shots, set design, script and overall atmosphere. I was stunned to learn that this film had no production design crew and that everything was done by Downey, his co-writer Kevin Stewart and Producer Kevin Fosheim. Downey even did all of the special makeup effects and the makeup on the actors.
Unbeknownst to me I had actually seen another film directed by Downey many years ago called Thankskilling, a horror film about a murderous Thanksgiving turkey. This is shocking to me because the difference between these two films is night and day. Downey is also from Ohio and being a native Ohioan myself this is information that makes me very excited.
This is the kind of film where you can see every penny of the production budget on the screen. The crew took everything they had and poured it to life for the audience and it’s hard not to get engrossed in the world. The music by Nick Soole is so damn good that it may be the best part of the movie not taking away from any other aspect of course. The acting is great albeit subtle (there’s very little dialogue in the film which never becomes a problem) and the horror element is played up very well. You really do believe that there are monsters roaming this world and are exceptionally grateful that people such as the main character exist to put them down. I was very happy with the vast majority of this movie.
Because the world was so well built and because the makeup effects were so good, it was a shame to find that no conflict with the monsters (except for the final beast) were shown on screen. I understand that it was most likely due to budget, but because to the impressive nature of the film it was highly disappointing not getting to see any real battle between the titular Head Hunter and the beasts he was slaying. At one point they show a spooky shot of the woods at night and you hear a werewolf howl in the distance. I became ecstatic, hoping to at least see a real fight with one of my favorite monsters of folklore, only to have it cut to the next morning where the Head Hunter returns to his cabin and hangs the beast’s head on his wall. The final confrontation with the aforementioned monster that killed his daughter was well designed and actually took up the latter half of the film, but some of the effects were a little laughable.
Speaking of the end, it was one of the few things, if not the only thing I truly did not like about the movie. I won’t spoil it, but it was very disappointing for me given how great everything else had been up to that point.
The Head Hunter is an incredible example of low budget film making done right. It’s clearly a labor of love that oozes passion and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those interesting in making movies. It’s inspirational to see the final product of the hard work of a handful of people that ends up being far better than the worst sum of its parts.
If you like fantasy you should watch this. If you like horror you should watch this. It really was a breath of fresh air for me watching something so unique and interesting. I would absolutely love a sequel or even a television series (he can hunt down a different monster every episode!) that continued on in this world because it’s an amazing place that I would very much like to visit again.
Final Grade: A