Directed by: Tom McGatlin
Starring: Tim Beamish, Johnny Derango, Casey Ellison
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Making an authentic take-on the slasher template is an extremely tough task, because the genre is densely populated and the guidelines don’t flex too much without stepping outside of the accepted trappings. The little-seen Headhunter pulls off the spectacular feat of giving us a synopsis that rises above expectations. Sure, it’s a slasher movie alright, but it’s one with something of a smart twist.
Released in 2002, Hunter has been largely ignored by most genre books and websites, which may well be because of its limited release. It was shot on a handheld camera in and around a fairly standard location, but it is concrete proof that a dose of creativity can outshine a meagre budget. I picked it up in a bargain bucket quite a while back and thought that I’d go back to re-evaluate it for you lovely people that follow a SLASH above.
A night-watchman in a warehouse settles in for his usual shift when suddenly he gets a call from a deranged stranger that claims to be ‘The Headhunter’ – a psychopathic killer that has recently escaped from a high security asylum. Soon after, he discovers the corpse of his chum and realises he has to fight to survive…
This film launches with a flowing tracking shot that lasts for at least five-minutes. It incorporates quite a lot of well-rehearsed movement and displays immediate ambition from director Tom McGatlin. There were many opportunities for a brief cut, but he braves out the timespan to deliver an intro that confirms that he’s out to impress. The biggest criticism of the Star Wars prequels, aside from the fact that they were awful, was that George Lucas filmed every dialogue scene like something from a wide-panned news desk. If he ever decides to return to the hot seat, there’s a conversation part here which is shot in a basic office space that he really should watch and learn from. McGatlin bolsters every set-up with an abundance of energy; and the riveting camera movement and visible enthusiasm is a pleasure to witness. He continued the dynamic approach throughout the runtime and kept things interesting even when nothing important was going on with the story.
The majority of the feature is made-up of only two characters sharing sequences at the one time and there was always a danger – in such an enclosed space – that the pace could dry-up and stagnate. Whilst there are a couple of sequences that should have been shorter, the film manages to valiantly sustain intrigue and keep us guessing. Victims are smartly introduced and quickly dealt with, which allows the focus to remain on developing tension. Hunter is by no means a gore film and all of the killings are off-screen, but what McGatlin manages to adequately provide are some sharp shades of suspense. Above all else, this is a cat-and-mouse chase feature and what is achieved on such minimalistic funding and basic ingredients is eminently impressive.
Another thing of note is the realism of the dialogue, which is written not to imitate how movie stars speak, but instead how normal people do. In an early discussion, two guys converse about their dead-end jobs and wanting to study in order to find something better. Of course this is not quite Tarantino pop-trivia scripting, but at least it’s recognisable as genuine. I also liked it when T.J. was hiding from the masked-killer and said something along the lines of, “God if get you get me out of this situation, I promise that I’ll… “ – Again something many of us might see ourselves doing.
Headhunter is cheap and it definitely shows. The lighting is bad, the acting is sketchy and it takes place in a bog standard backdrop. It overcomes its budgetary deficiencies with a whole heap of raw talent, which I feel deserves praise. Knowing a bit about the production of independent features opened my eyes to the qualities that this one boasts, but I advise caution, because it’s not for everyone. Fans of body count flicks and splatter should steer well clear. If however, you like them unique and are willing to overlook some basic moments, by all means give this a spin…
Killer Guise: √√