In Medieval times, monsters roam free. After losing his daughter, a warrior makes it his life’s mission to kill as many monsters as he can. He has killed many monsters, but one still manages to elude him. His quest will not end until he collects the head of the monster who murdered his daughter.
The Head Hunter is a unique film. Director Jordan Downey (ThanksKilling) co-wrote the film with cinematographer Kevin Stewart (ThanksKilling). The collaboration between Downey and Stewart leads to some interesting filmmaking choices. The most unique aspect is the storytelling choices the duo make. The film starts with a bit of exposition through voiceover, revealing the warrior’s daughter was killed by a monster. After that there is virtually no dialogue moving the plot forward. Instead, the filmmakers rely on visual queues to tell the story.
As the film progresses it becomes clear that the warrior has become a literal head hunter. We know this as the audience because we see the warrior sharpen a stake for his wall, ride off ready for battle, and return with a monster head to adorn his wall. It also seems clear that a nearby kingdom is giving him rewards for slaying these creatures. This becomes apparent because every hunt is precipitated by the sound of a horn and when the warrior returns from his hunt he also has what appears to be a medieval “wanted” poster with a drawing of a monster. All of this plot is told with no monologue, dialogue, voiceover, or anything other than simply what the audience sees on the screen. It is a form of storytelling I have not seen in a feature-length film, and it works surprisingly well in The Head Hunter.
While the storytelling method works, for the most part, there are still aspects that feel as though there isn’t enough meat to the film. As I mentioned before, multiple times the audience is shown the warrior riding off to kill a monster then returning with its head. It seems like an odd choice that we don’t get to see the warrior engaged in battle with these creatures. I can only assume it was due to budgetary constraints, but with how many times he rides off into the distance it becomes more and more apparent that we are missing the battles. There are two battles shown, but they are primarily in darkness so the action isn’t as palpable as it could be. The Head Hunter is already a shorter film clocking in at 1 hour and 12 minutes, but with the storytelling method, lack of dialogue, and minimal action it may have worked better as a short film.
The two most vital aspects of the film are the acting and the visuals. The Head Hunter is almost entirely filmed with one actor, Christopher Rygh, in his first feature film role. While Rygh doesn’t have much dialogue in the film, he still has quite a presence on screen and is able to emote very well. He truly embodies the look of a warrior and expertly conveys a wide range of emotions. On the visual side, the two strongest aspects are the cinematography and the creature designs. The cinematography does a majority of the storytelling and it as absolutely stunning. Each shot is purposefully framed and focused in a certain way to draw the eye. While for the most part we only see creature heads, the designs are varied and very well done. There is every sort of creature one could want and the big bad in the climax of the film is quite memorable.
The Head Hunter is a stunning feat in visual storytelling, yet it feels a bit devoid of the excitement and tension one would expect from this kind of film. I commend the filmmakers for taking on this fascinating style and creating a beautiful film. The performance from Rygh only helps to make the tale of this warrior compelling to watch. Some will likely notice the lack of tension that comes from skipping over a majority of the monster kills. Some will also likely feel the method used to propel the film forward requires more dialogue. While I stand by my statement that the film may have worked better as a short, it is still an accomplishment in filmmaking and beautiful to watch.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10