Nightshift janitor Karen is targeted by a vicious gang of masked marauders in this nasty game of cat-and-mouse misogyny.
Struggling to make ends meet after escaping a toxic relationship our protagonist is on clean-up duties in a furniture factory. It’s a massive space and quite how she is expected to clean it in one night is beyond me. A mysterious delivery driver interrupts her progress and soon enough she is fighting for her life in a protracted bout of micro-budget survivalism.
Once the relentless cycle of hide and seek and skirmishing begins you may find your eyes rolling back in despair at how such a low-key movie can possibly have the legs to reach the end credits with anything left in the thriller tank. Karen is so outnumbered and outmuscled and so goddam normal that it seems she has no chance at all.
However, Karen is spunky and resilient if nothing else, and is helped hugely by her foes’ refusal to coordinate their assault and their insistence on scrubbing around in dangerous workshop spaces alone. As it becomes apparent that the attackers are thicker than whipped pig shit and the victim is determined to see the sunrise by any means the film hits a satisfying stride of imaginative tension building and lurid kills.
Off course, the limited finances mean there must be a corresponding drop in viewer expectation and indeed a fair amount of suspension of belief. Hunt Her Kill Her simply can’t recreate the unbearable jeopardy of more salubrious films such as John Hyams’ mesmeric Alone. But what it can do is wring every ounce of tension from its single location setting and milk the realist charm from its leading lady and for the most part, it succeeds.
Some of the decisions made seem unintentionally amusing which creates an almost cartoonish dynamic. At one point Karen disguises herself as one of her tormenters yet the height difference and body shape are painfully obvious. Karen always seems to know exactly where to go for maximum evasion and stealth, yet she has not spent enough time in her surroundings to claim geographical superiority.
That being said, the subsequent set pieces of vengeful violence and worm-turning brutality contain an almost comedic element too. This recontextualises some of the picture’s more cheesy components by strengthening its B-Movie credentials. In terms of being an unapologetic exploitation flick, Hunter Her Kill Her is as happy to hide in plain sight as its title suggests and its heroine often does.
The masked killers are, as so often is the case, one-dimensional stalkers with mostly uninspired dialogue but that does not make them unfit for purpose. The actors handle the physicality well and chew the scenery with misogynistic venom and that’s all you can ask really.
Undoubtedly the film’s trump card is the performance of Natalie Terrazzino as the dogged Karen. She tempers her character’s descent into a primordial rage with a sweet everywoman aura that infuses the picture with relatability. Usually, this genre gives its central protagonist a background in some form of combat training such as ex-cop, military service, or martial arts. But not here. All Natalie Terrazzino has to work with is the natural survival instincts of a woman who refuses to roll over and be victimised, and she does a terrific job.
There is also a heavy-handed dose of real-world issues that cannot be revealed here. Suffice it to say, Hunt Her Kill Her runs a tangible risk of oversimplifying a highly sensitive topic for dramatic purposes. Yet, Karen’s grounded characterisation and the screenplay’s intensely pragmatic approach prove invigorating enough to justify the film’s callous nose dive into social commentary carnage.
By the time its final act unspools into well-orchestrated and uncomfortable mega-violence, the film has earned credible empathy and feels much more of a cathartic pushback than an exercise in crass reactionism.
Hunt Her Kill Her expands on the wide obsession with final girl syndrome and takes it in a new naturalistic direction that will please fans of indie horror and tooth-smashing fury. I hope directors Ryan Thiessen and Greg Swinson hold their collective nerve and apply the same hard-headed ethos to any future projects that I suspect may be better funded.
Horror, Thriller, Suspense | USA, 2022 | Cert. N/C 18+ | 89 mins | Raven Banner| Dirs. Ryan Thiessen and Greg Swinson | With: Natalie Terrazzino, JC Oakley III, Larry Bunton
Content Warning – Sustained threat, strong violence, gore, profanity.