Devon Sawa Goes Up Against Something Unnatural in Survivalist Horror ‘Hunter Hunter’
The remote wilderness outside of Winnipeg, Canada provides the setting for “Hunter Hunter,” a chilling horror drama centered around a family, fur trapper Joseph (Devon Sawa), his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan), and their 13-year-old daughter, Renee (Summer H. Howell). The already harsh conditions in which they live are exacerbated by a predator that has been devouring the animals they trap before they can get to them. They assume it’s a wolf, but increasingly strange happenings suggest otherwise in this film that keeps the viewer guessing.
Sawa took a break from filming his latest film, the comedy-horror “Black Friday!” with Bruce Campbell, to chat with Entertainment Voice. He tells us that he was immediately drawn to writer-director Shawn Linden’s screenplay, as it stood out among the other horror scripts he had read in recent years. “You’re always constantly looking for the films that could end up at an IFC or Blumhouse or any of those places, the ones that are smarter or do something different and are going to appeal to anybody and not just people who like slasher films or whatever. This script was well-written, well-paced.”
As he only saw the script a week before shooting in Winnipeg, Sawa had little time to get into survivalist mode. “My main thing was to put all my trust in the director,” he revealed. “Luckily, it worked out. Basically, anytime the camera crew was moving cameras or they were lighting, we were discussing certain things to do with hunting, and being a survivalist and living outdoors, everything from the proper way to sharpen a knife that’s not going to tip the audience off that I don’t know what I’m doing, what not to cut on an animal… If he was just a Hollywood-type director and he was faking it too, I don’t think we would have been able to do it properly.”
Under Linden’s direction, Sawa transforms into this man who has a tough exterior, but would also do anything for his family, except give up his fur trapping career, a trade the men in his family have been doing for generations. In one key scene, Joseph balks when Anne suggests moving to a more populated area, despite the fact that the dwindling supply of fur means dwindling funds, which makes it more and more difficult to secure even the necessities.
Something striking about Joseph is that he is the kind of guy who trusts animals more than humans. Having no son, he teaches everything about his trade to his more than capable daughter. He and Renee spend long hours together, and as a result, she is closer to him than she is with her mother. “She’s my buddy, for sure,” said Sawa when asked about working with Howell. “She actually emailed me, asking me for a list of movies that she should watch, and I gave her everything from ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ to ‘Scent of a Woman.’”
Howell couldn’t ask for a better mentor than Sawa. A former child actor who started out in theater, he went on to achieve teen heartthrob status after appearing in films like “Casper,” “Now and Then,” and “Final Destination.” “I know the difference between kids who want to be there and kids who don’t want to be there,” he said. “I legitimately loved being on set. It wasn’t my parents. I wasn’t looking for fame… I wanted to act. That’s what I wanted to do. The other way, there were kids whose parents had them on set and they all wanted to be the next Macaulay Culkin. Those kids didn’t want to be there. Summer, you can tell, enjoys this job. She enjoys learning. She enjoys jamming with us. She enjoys jamming with the director. I think she’s going to go very far.”
A turning point comes when Joseph comes across a shocking scene in the middle of the wilderness, the aftermath of horrifying violence. Without giving too much away, it’s a stomach-churning sight, and we see true fear in Joseph’s eyes for the first time. “It was terrifying,” said Sawa of filming the scene. “It was a deep, emotional day.”
Sawa revealed another major challenge he faced in playing Joseph. “The director wanted me to be this chainsmoker. A lot of these guys who live outdoors, they roll their own cigarettes… Whenever this guy is not doing something, he’s having a cigarette. You get to the second scene of the day and you’re doing multiple coverage and you’re on your eighth, ninth cigarette within the hour, it gets a little trying, a little brutal.”
The actor went on to discuss how fiming in the cold Canadian weather in the middle of nowhere added to the authenticity of his performance. “We wouldn’t have space heaters or tents in certain locations… Your feet would go first, you’d get that frostbite on your thighs, your backpack would start getting heavy, you’d want to put your gun down. It all played into the film great, but it was a tough shoot.”
After Joseph disappears for a prolonged period, Anne is left to hold down the fort. Despite her mounting anxieties, she must hold it together for her daughter, and she starts by doing something her husband would most definitely never do, go to the authorities. While cops Bathes (Gabriel Daniels) and Lucy (Lauren Cochrane) don’t take Anne seriously when she comes in and “cries wolf,” Bathes is eventually left with no choice but to investigate. Meanwhile, Anne takes in a wounded man, nature photographer Lou (Nick Stahl), and soon the story takes a shocking turn, leading to a final act that sees Linden go places where the viewer doesn’t expect to see him go.
Sullivan, who has had an impressive career in Canada but is not yet well-known in America, wows here, especially after Joseph leaves. Sawa had nothing but praise for his co-star. “Man, is she talented. If we didn’t get a talented actress to play that part, it wouldn’t be the movie it is. She carries it, and it’s grounded, and it’s real, and it’s moving. She’s great.”
Sawa went on to reflect on his career, which has spanned almost 30 years, revealing which of his films was the most memorable for him. “I would have to go for ‘Idle Hands.’ Overall, it was like going to summer camp with a bunch of buddies, Seth [Green], and Jessica [Alba] and Vivica [A. Fox]. We were just laughing all day long, and there was silly stuff going on all around us, and it was just a lot of fun. I don’t know if that was the particular role that moved my career along the most, but it was the most fun I had doing a project.”
The actor also revealed his thoughts on “Stu,” a recent “Saturday Night Live” short film that parioded “Stan,” the infamous Eminem video he starred in. “I’m flattered that I’m in a music video that is still getting heat 20 years later. Eminem is brilliant. He was ahead of his time, obviously, or it wouldn’t still be playing, and there wouldn’t be a word named after it that made the dictionary… I’m flattered, and Pete Davidson killed it. I was so worried when I heard. I think someone tweeted me first [about it], and I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ I was worried that it would be making fun of me, in my insecure mind, but I don’t think I smiled so much this year when I watched that. It was funny, and sweet, and cute, and he copied a few nuances that I did in the music video, blew off the pencil and everything. It was cool.”
“Hunter Hunter” releases Dec. 18 on VOD and in select cities.