Sunday, April 25, 2021

THE HEAD HUNTER (2018) (101 Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: 101 Films
Region Code: B
Rating: Cert. 15
Duration: 72 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English PCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Jordan Downey
Cast: Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman

Saying aloud the phrase "medieval fantasy-horror on a micro-budget" sounds like a non-starter to be honest, I mean how does one capture the look, feel and dark magic of a medieval fantasy film with monsters when most low-budget flicks have a hard enough time capturing the vibe of the seventies or eighties with any sort of authenticity? Well, low-budget filmmaker Jordan Downey (Thankskilling) seems to have cracked the code, for the most part, with the dark fantasy film The Head Hunter (2018), a minimalist ultra-indie set in a magical medieval age where monsters stalk the woods of a kingdom, and a grieving, broken warrior looks to avenge the death of his daughter at the hands of one such creature.   

Our protaganist is a bounty-hunter warrior, credited only as The Father (Christopher Rygh), who lives in the outlying area of a kingdom, where he hunts monsters at the King's request. He lives an isolated life of quiet grief mourning the death of his daughter (Cora Kaufman), who was killed by a monster years earlier, seemingly only carrying on for the opportunity to avenge her death, the totality of his life is consumed by the hunting of monsters. Unfortunately, due to budget limitations we do not see this warrior battle most of the creatures he hunts, we are only shown the before and after of these encounters. Beforehand we see him sharpen his weapons and make repairs his leather and bone armor, which looks like it owes a debt to the videogame Skyrim. Afterward he returns home bloody and battle-scarred with a sack containing the creatures head. He treats  his wounds with a fetid salve made from the creatures innards, and a bit of alchemy, which heals him quickly so that he may live another day and kill the beast that took his daughter from him. In his modest stone cottage he keeps a gruesome collection of monster head trophies that have been impaled on wooden spikes, and on that wall we see that there is one empty spike, presumably reserved for the head of the monster that killed his daughter. 

The film was shot in a remote region of Portugal and the location looks fantastic, it puts you right into the proper mood, I could believe that an ancient monstrosities could be lurking in the shadows there. The stone structure he lives in looks authentic as well, a modest dwelling that has seen better days, inside we have earthen floors, a wood fire, a table full of fetid looking jars, the whole world has a wonderfully pungent lived-in feel. It's obvious that a lot of pre-planning and thought went into crafting the film to make it feel authentic, even the warriors leather armor looks well-worn and battle-tested. Norwegian actor Christopher Rygh, this being his first film role, does very fine work with a largely wordless performance. I thought he looked a bit like a Norse version of Nick Offerman (DEVS) through that mess of tangled beard and gnarly locks. He has expressive eyes, and those eyes tell a tale of grief and sorrow. 

As I said before, most of the action and violence takes place 
off-screen, which might be off-putting to some and I can see that point of view. I would have loved more bloody monster-battle carnage but I can say that the lack of it it didn't stop me from enjoying the flick. It's a bit of slowburn, but at only 72-minutes long it's not overly long, and the finale picks up the pace considerably when the warrior ends up facing the creature that killed his daughter. It's got plenty of atmosphere and the look and feel of the terrain and sets sells the dark fantasy of it all well enough for me, I was into it. 

While the creature carnage is limited we do get some special effects by way of numerous decapitated monster heads the hunter keeps as trophies post-hunt, and when he is eventually afforded the opportunity to face-off against the same creature that killed his daughter we do finally get some monster action inside a claustrophobic and damp cave. It's here that you can see the lack of a budget showing through a tiny bit, so I can see why a lot of the monster stuff is wisely left to your imagination. They just did not have the budget for it, and it's a better film for not leaning too hard into it that aspect of it, but otherwise the film succeeds quite nicely in building a dark fantasy world that you can easily believe is crawling with bloodthirsty monsters, and Christopher Rygh delivers plenty of medieval warrior bad-assery. 

Audio/Video: The Head Hunter (2018) arrives on region B Blu-ray from 101 Films in 1080p HD framed in the original 1.78:1 widescreen. The digital shot film looks great, the rustic looking stone-cabin and deep wooded terrain is well lensed and looks desolate and cold throughout, the color palette is appropriately earthen, nearly sepia tone, and muted. Audio comes by way of both uncompressed PCM 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is kept to an absolute minimum here so the sound design relies on ambient sounds that build the world and the score to convey a lot of themes, and it certainly does. The ambient sounds of the forest, the sounds of nature, crackling tree branches and the shrieking sounds of monstrosities all help build the world, The score from composer Nick Soole is also quite good and does good work building atmosphere and emotion. 

Extras on the disc come by way of a pair of audio commentaries, the first with director Jordan Downey who is joined by producers Kevin Stewart and Ricky Fosheim to discuss how the film was made that gets into the technical side of putting the film together. The second track is with writer-director Jordan Downey and writer Kevin Stewart and it gets into the "Why it was made", a more personal side of the story. Additionally we get a 2-min featurette with input from writer-director Jordan Downey, producers Kevin Stewart and Ricky Fosheim, and actor Christopher Rygh. The single-disc release arrives in an oversized Scanovo keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original theatrical poster artwork. The Blu-ray disc also features an excerpt from the same key art. 

Special Features:
- How We Made Head Hunter - Audio Commentary with writer-director Jordan Downey and producers Kevin Stewart and Ricky Fosheim
- Why We Made Head Hunter - Audio Commentary with writer-director Jordan Downey and writer Kevin Stewart
- Making of featurette (2 min) 

The Head Hunter (2018) is an impressive micro-budget horror fantasy film, and while I certainly would have enjoyed more on-screen monster carnage, it was ultimately an engrossing and minimalist tale of medieval grief and revenge that is well-done and deserving of a watch.

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: .