(L-R) Summer H. Howell as Renee and Camille Sullivan as Anne in the thriller-horror-suspense film, ‘Hunter Hunter,’ an IFC Midnight release. Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight.

People often find their true physical and emotional strength during their most vulnerable times of peril, as they’re forced to fight to save themselves and their families, especially against a villain in disguise. That’s certainly the case for actress Camille Sullivan’s initially at-times meek protagonist of Anne in the new horror film, ‘Hunter Hunter.’ She diligently learns to use her natural survival instincts to protect her husband and their daughter during their most daunting times in the wilderness, where they have made their home. There, she ponders whether their choice to remove themselves from the safety that civilization provides has lead to their new imminent danger.

Shawn Linden wrote and directed the drama. ‘Hunter Hunter’ is now playing in select theaters, as well as On Digital and On Demand, courtesy of IFC Midnight.

‘Hunter Hunter’ follows a family that’s living in the remote wilderness, and earns a living as fur trappers. Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa), his wife, Anne, and their teen daughter, Reneée (Summer H. Howell), struggle to make ends meet, which is exasperated when they start to think their traps are being hunted by the return of a rogue wolf. Determined to catch the predator in the act, Joseph leaves his family behind to track the wolf. Anne and Renée grow increasingly anxious during Joseph’s prolonged absence, and struggle to survive without him.

When they later hear a strange noise outside their cabin, Anne hopes it’s Joseph, but she instead finds a stranger named Lou (Nick Stahl), who has been severely injured after he becomes lost in the woods, and is in desperate need of medical attention. But the longer Lou stays and Joseph is away, the more paranoid Anne becomes, and the idea of a mysterious predator in the woods slowly becomes a threat much closer to home.

Linden, Sullivan and Howell generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and starring in ‘Hunter Hunter’ during exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the filmmaker and performers discussed that once the actresses were cast, they worked together to build the characters’ arcs, particularly in showing that in the beginning, Anne’s dependent on her husband, but that quickly changes as she’s forced to become the one to protect their daughter. The scribe-helmer and performers also mentioned that they enjoyed the experience of creating the physicality for the characters, especially as they began filming on location, in the more rural areas surrounding Winnipeg.

The conversation with Linden began with the writer discussing what his inspiration in penning the script for the movie. “The screenplay was written in 2007, so it’s had a long road to being made. It had organically started with a image of a forest. I had been in Germany at the time during a layover for a film festival, and had to pass through a forest that was heavily misted and really creepy looking. By the time I got back to Winnipeg from the plane ride home, the spine of the story had been written. Through the course of the next 10 years, it had gone through a lot of changes and heartbreaks from being almost greenlit and made, only to fall apart at the last minute. It had been adapted to condition that have come and gone, but the same arc of the story remains. It eventually evolved into what it is now.”

After penning and developing the screenplay for over a decade, Linden was finally able to start working on his directorial duties for ‘Hunter Hunter.’ He then delved into how working on the script influenced his helming style on the set.

“Directing, to me, is really a lot more about executing an idea that had already been fully formed through the script phase, especially when I’m writing and directing at the same time. I was there when every idea in the story was conceived, and I’ve seen it evolve into what it is. So by the time I’m finishing writing, it’s all in my head,” the filmmaker revealed.

“But there are always a ton of surprises, and a movie never turns out the way you originally pictured, or even close to that. But as long as you have that plan to lay back on, then being the director for your own script is all about executing the ideas that you, as a writer, had,” Linden added.

Sullivan started her interview by explaining why she was attracted to portray Anne in the thriller, and how she become attached to star in Hunter Hunter.’ “I got a call from my agent to read a script in an urgent way. I was out with a friend, and I went straight to her house and started reading it.

“I got about 10-15 pages in, and I saw all of the physical labor my character does, like carrying heavy buckets and running. So I called my agent and said, ‘Yes, let’s do it-I’m really into this,'” the performer shared with a laugh. “I then kept reading it and saw the incredible journey my character goes on, and felt so lucky and blessed this character dropped into my life.”

The conversation with Howell began with the actress sharing why she was drawn to play Renée in the film, and how she become involved in starring in ‘Hunter Hunter.’ “I really loved reading the script. Something in Renée really resonated with me. She was actually written to be a boy, originally, but they ended up hiring me,” she revealed. “So it was cool that I got to slightly change the character. I also liked how Renée built this confidence in herself as a young woman throughout the movie, as I can relate to that in real life.”

The casting process for the drama was also an experience that Linden also cherished throughout the production. “The casting came down to the last few weeks, to the point that we were getting nervous about whether anyone would want to work on a small budget film that would mainly be shot in inhospitable conditions. So we were extremely fortunate to have gotten some positive responses by the people we were looking for,” he admitted.

“Camille Sullivan is absolutely brilliant in the film. She came on because she liked the script, and was really into doing it. It didn’t take much convincing on my part” to have her join the cast, the director shared.

“That was pretty much true for all of the actors. Nick Stahl responded really well to the script, and he thought it would be a refreshing job to tell a story like this,” Linden continued.

“Summer Howell was unbelievable as Renée. For the first 10 or 11 years of the script, her character was actually an 8-year-old boy, until I saw Summer in her audition. I then re-wrote the script to suit a 13- or 14-year old boy,” the filmmaker also revealed.

“Devon also saved us. It was a privilege and surprise that he wanted to do something so grueling. He, and everybody else, was game. They were dedicated, and their professionalism and talent made me realize that I couldn’t do the movie without them,” Linden added.

Once she signed on to star in ‘Hunter Hunter,’ Sullivan embraced the process of developing her character, particularly as the matriarch of a family of hunters and trappers. “I had a talk with Shawn, the director, right before we started. He had a very clear vision (for the character), which was great, because I didn’t have a ton of time” to prepare.

Linden “really wanted to stress the idea that even though Anne is very physically capable in the beginning, she’s also quite meek and afraid of a lot of things, and dependent on her husband and the life he’s set up,” the performer noted. “That changes through the movie; she finds the strength she needs. Every time something changes, she adapts and does what needs to be done. That takes her all the way through her true transformation in the end.”

In the movie, Anne is the true protagonist who keeps the family together. Sullivan also discussed what the process was like of showing how her character stays strong in desperate circumstances, even as she’s torn between maintaining her family’s life in the woods, which is what Joseph wants, and assimilating somewhat back into society in their area’s closest town, which she feels they need to consider.

“I think that’s an interesting struggle for (Anne). She’s built this life which she has perceived for so long as being safe, fulfilling and the best option for her and her daughter. But as her daughter grows, and as (Anne) grows as a woman, I think that she starts to see that the world is so much bigger,” the actress revealed. Anne begins to question “if this life is really sustainable in the long run. She starts to see that the freedom that she thought she has chosen is really a trap, but she doesn’t know how to escape it.”

Linden also chimed in on Anne’s arc throughout ‘Hunter Hunter,’ and noted that “Camille is an unbelievable person, and exudes her personality in a formidable sense. From the moment I met her, she had that resiliency that she glows with,” he gushed about the performer.

“The challenge with Camille is to make her, at times, slightly more vulnerable, because of the resilience she has to take on throughout the story. Camille’s so naturally pre-disposed to being this strong human being that once she had to be strong alone for her child in the story, there essentially was no work to be done,” the performer revealed. “She created that arc for herself. That sense of confidence and duty in herself is something I think is pretty much hard-wired into her brain.”

Howell also discussed what her experience of preparing to play a hunter and trapper was like before and while she was shooting her scenes. “On set, I got to learn as I went in how to use the traps, and how to make it look real while I was holding the gun. We had people on set who would teach me exactly how to do that, which was nice, because the other actors were learning how to do that, too,” she shared. “It was fun to learn how to use all these tools that I regularly wouldn’t use.”

Speaking of her co-stars, the actress then delved into what the process of working with the rest of the cast was like during the shoot. “Camille is such a nice person. She’s also Canadian, like me, and that helped me get to know her even better, because we could relate on things. Acting with her came so naturally and easily because of the bond we created. I would love to work with Camille again. I definitely look up to her as an actress,” she shared.

“Since it was such a small cast, we were constantly together.When the cameras weren’t rolling, we were constantly talking to someone, whether it was someone from the crew or one of my fellow cast members. So I found myself always talking to them and getting to know them as a person, and not just as this on-screen character. So it was really great that I always had opportunities to really talk to anyone who was there, and get to know them better,” Howell added.

Sullivan also embraced the experience of working with her co-stars on developing their characters’ relationships throughout the thriller’s production. “We didn’t have a ton of time (together) before we began shooting. So we got together for a dinner and talked through some of the scenes. After that, we really built those bonds on set by working through our scenes,” she shared.

“In a way, that was easy, because we were always on set. There wasn’t a lot of time for us to sit in our trailers, as we were always shooting,” the actress added. “So we got really close.

“Summer’s a wonderful actress; she’s so good, and such a sweet girl. We got along great, and were able to create our bond quickly,” Sullivan gushed about her young co-star.

“The same is true about Devon; he’s a great actor, and a wonderful man. We were able to create shorthands that could speak to a larger relationship by talking things through before our scenes. We’d say, ‘We can communicate things this way, and on this page, this means that.’ We were able to come up with language that couples have,” the performer shared.

Once the cast signed on to star in ‘Hunter Hunter,’ Linden also embraced the process of working with them to build their characters’ arcs and relationships. “I come at things from a psychological perspective, from a writing, and to an extension, directing, perspective. So there really was no better reference material to tell them where ideas came from, and why I had them,” he divulged. “I met them halfway with that support.

“The most important part of the process was sitting down with them, and walking them through their characters’ psychology at any given moment, so that we were on the same page. They were allowed to use their talents in the way they’re most comfortable, while also walking down the same path as me,” the director shared.

Collaborating with Linden as the writer-director on the film was also an experience that Sullivan embraced and called “great. One of the things that I really like about Shawn is that even though he wrote (the script) and had a clear vision, he was still open to my ideas, and talking things through with me.

“I really do feel like collaboration is the right word” to describe their working relationship, the actress continued. “He really listened to my opinions, and let me help shape the character into something we both felt really good about.”

Howell also shared what the process of working with Linden as the scribe-helmer was like throughout the production. She noted with a laugh, “Shawn and I have a funny relationship…We’re both very sarcastic, and our humor clicks very well, so getting to work with him was so nice. He’s definitely one of my favorite directors-don’t tell anyone!,” she jokingly added. “I feel like we had a trust in each other that helped me bring Renée to life, and I trusted him to direct me accordingly.”

Creating the physicality for her character of Reneée was also something that the performer embraced during the filming of ‘Hunter Hunter.’ “There were a few running scenes that my back didn’t exactly like, but I got threw them. There was also this cool scene that I think I filmed on my first day, where I had to pull a beaver out of a trap in the river. So I got dressed up in a wet suit so that I wouldn’t be cold. I got into the river and pulled the beaver out 20 or 30 times, just for this one small shot,” she divulged. “But it was really worth it, and my back no longer hurts.”

Sullivan also chimed in about her experience of creating the physicality for her character of Anne in the drama. “It was good timing for me because for the past year or so, I have been doing a different fitness regimen on my own that was a lot more physically taxing, and geared towards being capable of doing things like this,” she divulged.

“So when I was (on set), I was able to do a lot of things that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to, like dragging a six-foot tall man through the woods,” the actress continued with a laugh, in reference to a scene in which she pulled Stahl to the family’s cabin, after Anne and Reneée discovered Lou alone and injured in the woods. “I wasn’t sure if I’d have the physical capability, but I did. So I was thrilled with myself” that she was able to portray that part of the character.

The process of also collaborating with the cast on creating the physicality for their characters was also one that Linden enjoyed during the production. “They absolutely loved it, which was a surprise to me, because they had to undergo some challenges. Everyday, they had to climb to where the set was through the rain, which was a grueling process,” he revealed.

“Once it came down to the stunts and gory parts, they were all in. Devon, for instance, was really interested in authenticity, and making sure that he was doing what hunters do,” the filmmaker shared. “There’s a beaver-skinning scene where he breaks down the beaver, and the meat is cooked. Basically, the entire beaver is used. Devon wanted to know what that would really look like, and what the process really is, so he dove in order to gain that authenticity.”

‘Hunter Hunter’ was shot in a rural area near Winnipeg, which is the capital and largest city of the province of Manitoba in Canada, as the story is set in the remote wilderness. Linden also embraced the process of shooting the movie on location. “The wilderness is almost a character in the movie, and we really had to sell that (the characters) are really out there, alone and cut off from modern amenities,” he divulged.

“To do that, we had to do all of those things,” the director admitted with a laugh. “We had to go out to a super remote area, and there was no running water or electricity. We also had to stay in cabins there. So we had to go where it’s harsh so that we could capture that.

“There were potential catastrophes, especially weather-wise, during the shoot. On the third-to-last day, we had a massive snowstorm that wiped out all the fall foliage on all the trees. That wiped out other productions across the city and province,” Linden added. “So the practical things like that made shooting challenging. I think we met each challenge the best we could.”

Howell also enjoyed the experience of shooting ‘Hunter Hunter’ on location. “I’m from Manitoba myself, so I kind of knew what the climate would be like (while) filming (the movie). I realized that I love filming outside a lot, especially during the weather we had, but maybe not during the winter,” she admitted.

“While we were filming, it was still fall. So it was nice to constantly have a breath of fresh air and being in nature, which you don’t always get while you’re filming in a studio all day,” the performer divulged.

Having the experience of filming the thriller on location in Winnipeg was also an experience that Sullivan cherished. “I loved it, and thought it was a great experience. (Being there) really put us into the movie, and made us feel isolated, cold and against the elements, which we were,” she shared. “That was really good.

“Being on location really helped me, because I’m not a super outdoorsy person, and don’t camp,” the actress admitted with a laugh. “So I really needed to become immersed in that environment to get a feeling for it, and it was so fun.”

In addition to enjoying the process of writing and directing ‘Hunter Hunter,’ Linden also cherished having the opportunity to also serve as a producer on ‘Hunter Hunter.’ But he “was careful to try not to juggle those two roles (helming and producing) at the same time. In the preparatory phase, I was essentially just preserving the work I had done as a writer,” he admitted.

“But when we were in the pre-production stage, I was slowly growing into my directing (duties), while was also producing the movie, and getting it off the ground. So by the time we were shooting, I stepped back from my producing duties, so that I could focus on the directing. The writing was also done, so I was essentially just doing the one thing. Once the shoot ended, I was able to reassume some producing duties during the post-production process,” the producer added. “So I did all three things, but tried to keep them in separate phases of the production process.”

With the film now being playing in select theaters, as well as On Digital and On Demand, Linden admitted that he “was really concerned about film releases because of the COVID situation. I’m still uncertain, like everyone else is, about the future of film releases,” he admitted.

When it came time to start looking for a distribution deal for ‘Hunter Hunter,’ “There were a few groups that were interested. But the minute we heard that IFC Midnight liked the film, we were excited. It’s been such a pleasure to work with them. It’s a relief that I can step back from a lot of this stuff, as they’re able to handle the release details much better than I would have been able to, like the artwork and trailer,” the filmmaker revealed with a laugh. “It’s good to be in the hands of people who know what they’re doing, and are passionate about genre.”

Sullivan divulged that she thinks having the dual distribution “is a good way to release the movie, especially right now. People have many options, and they can see it safely. I also love that Drive-Ins are coming back because I think they’re so cool, and this is a fantastic Drive-In movie. I just want people to see the movie, and however the best way for them to see it is great.”

Howell also expressed her excitement that audiences are able to see the drama however they feel the safest. “I’m so excited for everyone to see it. When I make a movie, I’m proud of my work, and everything’s that’s put into it, as well as the people I work with…So the fact that I get to share it with everyone else now is really amazing, and I feel really blessed,” she revealed.

Photo ofShawn Linden, Camille Sullivan and Summer H. Howell
Shawn Linden, Camille Sullivan and Summer H. Howell
Job Title
Writer-director and actresses of the thriller-horror-suspense film, 'Hunter Hunter'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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