Movie Review: Predators and prey switch roles in “Hunter Hunter”

“Hunter Hunter” is a nasty little piece of work, a thriller that points us in obvious directions and takes its time getting to its destination.

But nasty. If the object of horror is “to horrify,” this predators-become-prey tale delivers and finishes with a flourish you won’t soon forget.

Devon Sawa and Camille Sullivan play parents/partners who’ve made a life in the woods of Manitoba circa 1990. Joe supports them by trapping, and he’s teaching what he knows of the woods and the hunt to their twelve year old daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell).

But one morning walking the trap line, they find a leg — all that’s left of the raccoon the spring trap caught.

“It’s back.” Renee says what Joe won’t say. A wolf that stalked them some while back must have returned. Anne has to drag it out of him when they get back to the cabin.

“It’s attracted to us,” she decides. “We’re its steady food supply,” because they provide the trapped prey and their cabin full of fleshy white meat humans. She’s anxious to get Fish & Wildlife on the case, but Joe — third generation trapper, on this land which they may not have a clear claim to,and macho man of the forest, won’t hear of it.

“Fish cops gonna do what I can’t?”

He will pack up traps and his scoped hunting rifle, read the signs and hunt the hunter. No daughter tag-along this time.

“First get used to animals that run,” he counsels. “Then you can hunt the ones that chase!”

Writer-director Shawn Linden (“The Good Lie”) deftly lays out the dynamics of the family, Anne’s realization that “the world has passed us” and their way of living by. She can’t feed her child, he can’t support them on the falling price of pelts, and a trip to “town” has her pining over real estate ads and envying normal families walking their kids to the school bus.

Joe has to lie about dangers that they face just to keep from losing the argument and the only way of life he knows. What do you think he does when he gets a shot at their stalker, only to see what the canine was chowing down on when he missed?

It’s a human forearm and hand.

Linden’s separated his protagonists. He’s raised the stakes, with Dad out on a stalk that just turned deadlier. And Anne can’t even fetch water from the river without a justifiable freak-out over the noises she hears in the underbrush.

Renee may be her Daddy’s girl and know how to shoot his old lever-action Winchester .22. But she’s still a child, and children are prone to panic and scream as they do.

And like Mom, Renee has reason enough to scream soon enough.

Linden addresses the cruelty implicit in trapping, the suffering it inflicts and how kill-your-own-meat isn’t for every sensibility. The local wildlife officers (Lauren Cochrane and Gabriel Daniels) are more interested in what this family is doing out in this dense forest than in the wolf Anne says they’re threatened by.

Linden also makes the most of the “period piece” aspect of all this. “Sat phones” haven’t yet been displaced by cell phones, “yuppies” are invading the wilderness — and endangering the wildlife with their clueless ways. There’s no calling for help out here.

And something that isn’t a wolf has come into these woods and killed, so Joe, “stronger than any animal in this forest,” had better prove it.

“Final Destination” and TV’s “Somewhere Between” alumnus Sawa is quite convincing at the primitive man of the woods, confident in his skills, choosing his wolf-and-other-killers hunting gear — traps — with care.

Sullivan (“The Disappearance”) gets across the callouses one has to develop to live a life this hard and brutal, but also the more sensitive mother she always has to hide.

And Linden, while hard-pressed to take this anywhere we don’t see from a mile off, manages several tense moments and scenes with real suspense, before delivering a finale that’s a grim, teeth-gritting corker.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Camille Sullivan, Summer H. Howell, Devon Sawa, Nick Stahl, Lauren Cochrane and Gabriel Daniels

Credits: Scripted and directed by Shawn Linden. An IFC Midnight release.

Running time: 1:32

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