“The Head Hunter” is a beautifully executed, genre-bending masterpiece — and the best, underappreciated indie horror film of 2019.
The Head Hunter (2018) is a divisive, thrilling, and minimalist grim dark horror fantasy that thrives on creativity. Pulled together on a shoestring budget and held up by aggressive word-of-mouth, The Head Hunter is an indie masterpiece that teases the endless potential of fantasy horror.
There’s no excuse for missing it.
The film centers on a lone medieval warrior (Christopher Rygh) living in an isolated, abandoned forest. At the sound of an ominous horn, he marches into the wilderness to kill monsters for King and coin. He mounts his foes’ heads on pikes in his hovel, and his collection will only be complete when he collects the head of the beast that killed his daughter.
The Head Hunter is a small film, but there is so much to love.
The setting and tone are, perhaps, the film’s biggest success. Horror and medieval fantasy don’t often mix. Black Death (2010) may be the closest that we’ve come to having a true genre combination, but it’s hard to claim that film as horror. From the lone castle sitting above the tree line to the warrior’s primitive alchemy, the setting evokes a darkness that feels unforgiving and lethal.
It is these subtle touches where The Head Hunter shows the brimming potential of weaving together fantasy settings and stories with horror tropes. Plus, it shows this possibility without huge sets or a star-studded cast. It’s all tone, setting, and acting.
It’s clear that the film would be lost without its leading actor. Christopher Rygh, the unnamed protagonist, gives an inspired performance. He’s in nearly every shot, and he carries that responsibility with grace and aplomb. It’s easy to imagine the film going south in a less capable actor’s hands. With only a few lines of dialogue, Rygh adds a level of authenticity and empathy that’s hard to find in other horror film protagonists.
It would be an injustice to ignore the amazing set design and costuming as well.
There’s not a whole lot of plot to the movie. It’s a straightforward film with a minimalist setting. That said, the warrior’s hovel is a masterclass is detailed craftsmanship and design. The bestial creatures are familiar, but still gruesome. And the costuming steals the show. The warrior’s armor is, perhaps, the coolest costume in a fantasy film… ever.
This is what everyone wants their Dungeons and Dragons character to look like.
Still, it’s easy to see that there are some less stellar moments. When you learn that The Head Hunter was made for $30,000, you can start to see where the budget couldn’t carry the weight of the ambitious production. There are some effects and shots that don’t work as well as one might expect. Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of action. The warrior is so cool that seeing him take down a monster would have been truly epic.
However, these moments are only minor blips in a movie that manages to be far more than a low budget B-movie.
The sheer amount of creative cinematography is enough to overshadow any small weaknesses.
The Head Hunter is not for everyone. The film’s minimal aspects may upset horror fans who’ve become used to big budgets and big scares. But there’s more to horror than elaborate sets and gags.
The Head Hunter shows what it means to fund a movie with creative thinking and determination, and it is a must see.