You’ve got to hand it to the creators of Hunter for producing a hero whose chosen field of endeavor is almost as twisted as that of the vampires the title character ends up chasing. Hunter (Jason Kellerman), is a cage fighter who specializes in kicking and pummeling the tar out of his opponents. He fights in a shadowy arena with an audience of spectators we never get to see. He’s not the biggest or brawniest of the lot but has the skill to take down goons twice his size.
Making the hero of the story a cage fighter is an inspired choice, not only because his punching and gouging experience will come in handy when he’s wrestling with neck biters, it also gives him an occupation sort of similar to that of the fanged ones — bloodsport. It’s like he and the vampires are two sides of the same coin, yeah?
Of course, Hunter merely spills other people’s blood rather than drinking it. And splatter blood he does, in some brutal but not overly gory opening scenes. He’s the Michael Jordan of pugilists who whomp each other in rings enclosed with chain link fencing. So when we flash forward eight months and find him sitting on Chicago’s skid row, it’s clear that his life is a more complex puzzle than we might have first thought.
“…caught a few flying mule kicks to the head…turned his brain to scrambled eggs…”
Director David Tarleton fills the first part of the film with quick cuts and the crashing, distorted sounds of Chicago’s L trains speeding by overhead. The soundtrack gives a clue about what’s going on inside of Hunter’s noggin. At first, we can chalk up his disorientation to punchiness. It’s no stretch to assume that he caught a few flying mule kicks to the head, and the cumulative effect turned his brain to scrambled eggs, but that’s not necessarily the case.
There’s a darker story behind it all, and as we follow him to a homeless shelter we eventually learn about his past and why he wants to avoid speaking of it. The shelter provides counseling to its residents, and his therapist, Danni (Rachel Cerda), has her work cut out for her. But she eventually breaks through Hunter’s mental fog and finds out that both of them have experienced profound loss.
Meanwhile, Hunter has stumbled onto a group of vampires who are kidnapping unsuspecting denizens of the city and chugging their blood. Curiously, as soon as he falls upon them, he seems to immediately understand what’s going on. Could there be something afoot here? Of course, there is.
In a side plot, the youngest of the group, Luke (Ryan Heindl), is not meeting his quota for bringing in fresh victims — the group operates as a kind of a vampire co-op — and head bloodsucker Volakas (Nick Searcy) gives Luke a kill or be killed ultimatum. Volakas is the only one in the film who speaks vampire — “Vaste not, vant not,” he tells Luke, who is hesitant to indulge in the fruits of a fresh kill.
“…it’s The Sopranos with fangs.”
The more darkly amusing aspect of this vampire clique, which includes a couple of other thugs who bully Luke, is that they operate like an organized crime family. It’s The Sopranos with fangs. You aren’t a good earner, you sleep with the fishes.
The filmmakers have crafted a convincing atmosphere with sound — a chorus of screeching violins still gets to me whenever there are knife play — polished editing techniques and shadowy lighting, which are the movie’s strong points. We get a gritty eyeful of the darker corners of the city, including the mean streets and homeless shelters of that venerable metropolis.
But the story feels as if it’s following some rather familiar paces, ones that we’ve come to expect in thrillers. An emotionally wounded hero finally learns to trust again, then the person that he or she deeply cares about is put in jeopardy. The hero’s third act mission is to pull the child/love interest/hostage out of the fire.
OK, no problem. It’s the stuff that’s kept movies flickering for the last century or so. For the most part, Hunter hits the marks that it needs to hit, and it keeps us watching, even if it’s light on delivering surprising plot twists.
Hunter (2018) Directed by David Tarleton. Written by Jason Kellerman. Starring Jason Kellerman, Nick Searcy, Shannon Brown, and Rachel Cerda.
6 out of 10