Something wicked this way comes in ‘Hunter’
Hunter, the feature debut of writer/executive producer/leading man Jason Kellerman and producer/director David Tarleton, defies description, to say nothing of convention. It’s an action film, a character study, a psychological thriller, a modern-day film noir, a horror film, and even manages to incorporate some social commentary into the mix.
In short, Hunter is something different – and it’s better. In addition to critical praise, the independent film won the “Freaky Award” at the 2018 Freak Show Horror Film Festival, the MFF award as Best Horror Feature at the 2018 Manhattan Film Festival, and the Silver award as Best Feature (Mystery-Thriller) at the 2018 Queen Palm International Film Festival, to name a few … and cult status is a lock.
Formerly a mixed-martial-arts champion, Kellerman’s Hunter now ekes out a solitary existence as one of Chicago’s many homeless people, suffering from hellish hallucinations and prone to violent outbursts. At times, Hunter is lucid and contemplative; other times he is delirious and disoriented. He’s unable to get past the grief and trauma surrounding the murders of his mother and sister – and there’s a very good, and very bad, reason why.
The culprits, led by Nick Searcy’s Volakas, might euphemistically be called “creatures of the night” – the sort popularized by Bram Stoker and later Anne Rice. But Hunter is not a run-of-the-mill vampire movie. Like Near Dark (1987), it doesn’t necessarily adhere to traditional lore, and there’s an ironic parallel between the homeless and the vampires. Each exists on the periphery of society, the former due to their economic and emotional hardships, the latter because it provides perfect cover for their nefarious nocturnal deeds.
But when Danni (Rachel Cerda), a compassionate social worker who takes an interest in Hunter, becomes imperiled, Hunter must find it within himself to conquer his own demons before he can conquer the real demons. Hell hath no fury like Hunter’s.
Hunter is now available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, FandangoNow, DirectTV On Demand, and on DVD from Random Media ($14.95 retail).
“We were absolutely interested in telling the story, from an honest an empathetic place, of a homeless person,” Tarleton said. “I was always interested in the film as a character study. There have been many vampire films made over the years. If we’re going to explore this mythology (and) these tropes, I always felt we had to find something new in it. Trying to have a character-driven vampire film that really had something to say was important to me.”
According to Kellerman, Hunter was always going to be homeless, the character inspired by Kellerman’s stint working at a soup kitchen in Chicago. “I wanted to give back to the people whose lives I was writing about, and get a better sense for their day-to-day (existence) to make sure I did justice to the character and the subject matter.”
He also wanted to put a spin on the vampire genre. “They’re an update of the myth to fit the modern day,” he observed. “Vampires in Victorian England were all about sexuality because that was the taboo thing at the time that everyone was a little afraid of. Nowadays, that’s a little less relevant. I’d like to think most people aren’t quite so scared of sexuality, so the myth loses power when it’s done that way. But I’ve always thought vampirism is a metaphor for abuse; someone does something you don’t want, but then you need to do that to other people.
“Nowadays, that usually takes the form of powerful men preying on the disenfranchised, and so our villains had to follow suit. Again, we wanted these characters to feel like real people – on both sides – someone you might meet on the street, not inhuman monsters. I think that’s what gets people invested in a story in the first place.”
“There was definitely some reaction against the romantic version that we’ve seen in pop culture lately, not just ‘sparkly’ vampires,” Tarleton concurred. “These vampires are brutal killers, walking examples of toxic masculinity, in a kind of organized-crime context. The ways that Hunter was underground were similar to the ways that the vampires had to hide. The difference was that the vampires were from a very different economic background from where Hunter finds himself. They were up, in the same way that Hunter was down. There’s probably something in there about the class and economic systems in this country, if we really were to dig into it.”
The city of Chicago is very much a character in the film, and the filmmakers were eager to showcase areas of the city that were not the usual familiar landmarks. Tarleton is an associate professor and director of graduate programs in the Cinema and Television Arts department at Columbia College Chicago, so he and Kellerman were already very familiar with the Windy City. And, indeed, during shooting Chicago was both windy and cold!
“I love how Chicago looks,” Tarleton said. “The architecture and just the energy of the city is just so specific, and we really wanted to explore it. We really were trying to give a real sense of the grittier side of Chicago. Hunter is homeless, so his world is this darker, dirtier, textured space. He’s also ‘under’ – both physically and metaphorically – so we intentionally shot the film from underneath. We’re under the ‘L’ tracks, underneath bridges, underneath the city itself on Lower Wacker Drive, and constantly underneath the shadow of the huge buildings looming overhead. I feel like the brutal conditions really add to the sense of isolation and the cold shows up on screen.”
Even before the film’s release, Kellerman and Tarleton were giving serious thought to a follow-up, or even a full-blown franchise. “If I got my way, I’d do five seasons,” Kellerman said. “I’ve already got it mapped out. It’s absolutely an origin story, so any SyFy or Netflix producers reading this, I’m sure you would happily pass along my contact info!”
(Yes, I would.)
“I think we accomplished most of the things we intended to do,” Tarleton said. “We were relatively low-budget, but we put it all up on the screen. The actors that we worked with were universally brilliant, and it was such an honor to see them just shine in the film. It was a great collaboration. I’d love to continue to explore Hunter’s story. It’s something that Jason and I were discussing right from the beginning. There’s definitely still more to tell. It was great fun to make, and I’d love to return to more deeply explore the world and its lore.
“First and foremost, I want the audience to be entertained. The film is scary, intense, fun, and mysterious. At the same time, I hope the audience can empathize with this homeless character and feel what that experience would be like – to really go on a journey with these characters and come out just a little bit changed.”
For more information about Hunter, visit the official website.
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