Death Hunt, written by director Neil Mackay alongside Sean McAulay, takes massive inspiration from The Most Dangerous Game and 1970s grindhouse thrillers. The beautiful evergreen forest the film is set in is a perfect backdrop to the carnage on screen, and the action is over-the-top to the bitter end. All of those grindhouse staples are accentuated by the excellent score by Mitchell Gibbs. Prickling strings build suspense, deep horns are used during intense gun fights, and a blaring brass section announces character deaths. These sonic elements, paired with the terror on screen, make this a fun romp of violence and B-movie thrills.
Ray (Oscar Tucci) is planning a relaxing getaway with his mistress Brooke (Marlene Malcolm). Life as a wealthy land developer has never been better for him as the pair heads to Pacific Northwest for some time away from his wife. Unfortunately, shortly after their travel begins, the couple’s trip takes a turn for the horrific. Kidnapped by local hunters — Rick (Rick Amsbury), TJ (Terry McDonald), and Gary (Greg Johnston) — the two are brought to a secluded island to be hunted for sport. No amount of begging or bargaining can save Ray and Brooke from partaking in this most dangerous hunt.
“…the two are brought to a secluded island to be hunted for sport.”
The characters in Death Hunt nicely slide into the archetypes of human hunt survival horror. Terry McDonald stands out as the shark-like seasoned hunter TJ and Oscar Tucci’s businessman trying to bargain his way out of danger fits the overall narrative. However, Marlene Malcolm’s performance as Brooke is the most entertaining; watching her transform from almost scream queen to genuine Uzi-welding action hero is some of the best scenes the film offers.
While character archetypes are vital to the story, the screenwriters rely on them heavily for the audience to understand everyone’s motivations. Our heroes want to survive while the hunters are murdering sociopaths, need we say more? Motives like this work on some level throughout; however, they sometimes lead to the characters feeling more like caricatures. At times the choices made by Ray, Brooke, Rick, TJ, or Gary, while unclear, add to the drama. However, sometimes these choices actively reduce the thrills and tension.
It may not be genre-defining, but by no means is this a poor entry into the canon of hunting humans for sport. Dwelling solely within a hyper-specific sub-genre, Death Hunt feels a little like Breakdown mixed with Red State and, as stated above, with a lot of The Most Dangerous Game thrown in. These similarities do nothing to detract from the enjoyment factor but highlight the lack of a groundbreaking story. The movie has a slow start, but once the hunt begins, the action picks up, and it becomes more self-aware by the minute- cumulating in an explosive climax packed with plenty of bullets. This action flick ventures slightly into the cult-classic pallet of bloody conclusions, ultimately holding it back from becoming a must-watch midnight thriller. While the film may not reach the S-tier of its genre, it remains an enjoyable watch down to its last scream and final survivor.
"…an enjoyable watch down to its last scream and final survivor."