(director/writer: Shawn Linden; cinematographer: Greg Nicod; editor: Chad Tremblay/John Gurdebeke; music: Kevon Cronin; cast: Camille Sullivan (Anne), Summer H. Howell (Renee), Devon Sawa (Joe Mersault), Nick Stahl (Lou), Gabriel Daniels (Barthes), Lauren Cochrane (Lucy), Jade Michael (Tina), Erik Athavale (Greg); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Juliette Hagopian, Shawn Linden, Neil Elman; IFC Films; 2020-Canada)

“What it’s trying to say remains hidden in the woods.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A nasty thriller, with a gruesome and unforgettable conclusion. It’s about hunting a killer rogue wolf. The unsettling film is effectively directed and written by Shawn Linden (“Good Lie “/ “Nobody”), but what it’s trying to say remains hidden in the woods.

In 1990, off the grid in the rural Canadian woods (filmed in a national park in Manitoba), the hunter and the third-generation trapper Joe Mersault (Devon Sawa) lives on the land his family
once legally owned but has now been made illegal. Joe resides there with his partner Anne (Camille Sullivan) and their home-schooled 12-year-old daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell).

One day Joe’s concerned that in one of his traps a racoon (which he needs as animal food to feed his family) was gutted by a wolf (the same wolf he believes is returning that once stalked the wilderness family).

Tracking the wolf, Joe finds the woods littered with all kinds of animal corpses and all his traps are with gutted animals. Instead of notifying the Fish & Wildlife authorities (the Fish people-Gabriel Daniels & Lauren Cochrane), Joe believes they’re useless anyway and goes on his own to hunt the mystery creature. At first with his daughter and then alone when he sends her back home realizing the wolf is a killer and not a runner.

With Joe in the woods, a badly wounded photographer (Nick Stahl) appears at his cabin. His car broke down in the woods and he tried walking back to town to get help, when attacked by a wolf. The bloodied man is nursed by Anne. 

It seems as if the tables have been turned and the hunter has become the hunted. The only point the dark film seems to be making is that man thinks he’s smarter than nature, when that’s not always true. There’s also an underlying family feud developing, as the wife has had it with this hard primitive life and on a trip to town muses that she wants to return to civilization, to live in a real house with modern conveniences and for her daughter to get a real education in a school.

In following this revenge hunting tale, which is a cheap exploitation film, we see a lot of animals mutilated or killed by either hunter. Cruelty is the commonality between the rogue hunters and the messy family situation. For such an ugly film, there’s not enough in it to make its story more palatable or enjoyable. And, it’s not the kind of film you want to watch if you are queasy about seeing dead animals skinned. But it’s skillfully crafted by a talented filmmaker, if it wasn’t this film would have been a real stinker.

REVIEWED ON 12/25/2020  GRADE: C+