Synopsis – A weathered Lieutenant, his police force, and a local vigilante are all caught up in a dangerous scheme involving a recently arrested, troubled man who’s linked to years of female abductions and murders.
My Take – There was a time when films based on serial killers rocked American cinema. With films like Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en undeniably changing the landscape of how thrillers were supposed to be made. And above all they often contained some exceptional performances for example, Edward Norton gave an electric performance in director Gregory Hoblit’s Primal Fear, and of course there are the Oscar winning turns from both the leads in The Silence of the Lambs, a film which followed up its themes with two sequels and a prequel.
However, following the release of David Fincher’s exceptional Zodiac, the sub-genre has been dying a slow dead with one scattershot film after another, with director Tomas Alfredson‘s 2017 adaption of the Jo Nesbø novel, The Snowman, probably acting as the final nail in the coffin. Unfortunately this film, is no different.
Despite a star-studded cast, this thriller written and directed by David Raymond, is so bizarre you will be left wondering why the cast signed on in the first place. At first, it seems like the film knows exactly the kind of cold, brooding crime thriller it wants to be, but then it struggles to carry out the plan effectively thanks to a leaden script and a wildly uneven story that undervalues even its smallest interesting parts.
Without a coherent theme to hold it together, the film feels like it’s been slapped together with a cliché here and a trope there, without any thought of consistency, making it quite a depressing, uncomfortable and frustrating watch.
Perhaps this one could have worked as a television mini-series or a novel, both formats which might have allowed for a less linear plot and an exploration of the several different ideas it keeps throwing at you.
Set in Minneapolis, the story follows Lieutenant Aaron Marshall (Henry Cavill), a police homicide detective, who has been tracking prolific rapists and murders for years, hence resulting in the dissolving of his marriage to Angie (Minka Kelly), and his scarce relationship with his teenage daughter, Faye (Emma Tremblay).
Meanwhile, Cooper (Ben Kingsley), a former judge, flying under the radar, has been carrying out his own version of vigilante justice, by using his young protégé Lara (Eliana Jones) to bait and castrate pedophiles thus preventing their re-offending.
However, when an accident car accident lands Cooper in police custody, his tracking device on Lara leads Marshall and his team, into the house of Simon Stulls (Brendan Fletcher), a man who while suffering from multiple personality disorder, has probably been involved in a string of kidnappings and murders of women over the years.
With Commissioner Harper (Stanley Tucci) and Profiler Rachel (Alex Daddario) onboard, they must all work together to find out the full extent of Simon’s crimes, all the while unearthing some horrifying truths along the way.
This, believe it or not, is a simplified version of the plot. And the whole story is just as problematic in execution as it sounds on paper, because it has narrative that meanders all over the place and, just as you think you’ve got a handle on it, something else gets thrown in to muddy the waters even more.
The film is just horribly bland and unambitious stylistically, which is in stark contrast to the script, which makes a ton of ambitious swings and misses. Here’s a script with so many ideas going off at different tangents that the resultant film struggles to do justice to any single one of them. Which does not come as a surprise considering it has about 34 listed producers of one sort or another, and feels like numerous different films vying for space rather than any single, unified vision.
The film supposedly dabbles with the issue of the treatment of sex offenders, and raises questions like should they ever be let out of prison?, how many of them re-offend? Yet ends up setting out the two opposing views in an especially cumbersome scene between Marshall and Cooper. Yes their views are polar opposites, they spout them and that’s as far as it goes. After that director David Raymond just backs down from having something meaningful to say, and the film just floats along rudderless.
Also, the way in which this film handles its character with a mental disability is beyond problematic. Towards the beginning, it seems like the film may be providing commentary on the way by which people with disabilities are often mistreated by the justice system, but it soon becomes clear that the film is using his condition as little more than a plot device.
Although the poorly-written disabled character is the cardinal sin committed by this film, the rest of the characters are also quite underdeveloped. All of the police characters are total archetypes whose arcs are entirely predictable. Nothing about these characters is remotely interesting, and as such, it is hard to get behind them.
The worst comes in the form of Rachel, a supposedly strong and notable psychological profiler, who performs many interviews with the arrested Simon in a police interview room, yet by the end becomes the usual kidnapped damsel in distress. While there are small hints that she and Marshall have had some sort of personal history together, it is never really developed.
For some reason, the film is aided by a by-the-numbers score which robs most of the better scenes of any impact they might otherwise have had.
The cast that was assembled for this film is surprisingly strong, hence why it was such a surprise that the film is mediocre. Like most of the films he stars in nowadays, Ben Kingsley manages to carve a particularly memorable performance despite the middling proceedings taking place. While the rest of the cast, Henry Cavill, Alexandra Daddario, Stanley Tucci, and Nathan Fillion, all have roles ranging in importance and screen time, but none of them, seem to particularly interested. Even Minka Kelly, MPHO Kohao, Eliana Jones, Emma Tremblay are wasted in smaller roles.
But the worst comes in the form of Brendan Fletcher, who is required to operate in two alternating modes: as a mewling, slobbering, almost incomprehensible adult baby, and as a spittle-firing psychopath, a killer of women, just hams it to the top, almost comically at times. On the whole, ‘Night Hunter’ is a mediocre killer which despite a stellar cast, is bogged down by its lazy script, acting and execution.
Directed – David Raymond
Rated – R
Run Time – 90 minutes