Hunt Her, Kill Her had its international première at the Glasgow FrightFest 2023.
A sign on an industrial machine is marked ‘Danger’, and drives its point home with an illustration of fingers severed from a hand. The camera pulls away and tracks backwards through the floor of a large furniture factory, passing machinery, work tables and racks of materials, as the building’s lights go out one by one, leaving only haunted shadows. This opening sequence in Hunt Her, Kill Her maps out the interiors that will become the arena for all the ensuing conflict: a dark, empty work space where plenty of helpful tools are available, but where there is also potential danger lurking around every corner.
The factory and its immediate vicinity will be the only setting over the course of this latest feature from writer/director Greg Swinson and his co-director Ryan Thiessen (Five Across the Eyes, 2006). For here protagonist Karen (Natalie Terrazzino), a single mother on her very first shift as cleaner and caretaker of the otherwise depopulated shop floor, just wants to make it through the night so that she can pay off her mounting debts and get back home to her beloved young daughter Lily (Olivia Graves). Slight, yet sedulous (and stronger than she looks), Karen has already had to fight to get herself and Lily away from an abusive husband, and so the arrival of five masked men at the plant is just a reprise of past trauma, and a patriarchal onslaught with which she is already all too familiar.
The janitor who showed Karen around the premises when she first arrived mentioned that there had recently been a break-in and robbery at another warehouse nearby. Yet it very quickly becomes clear that the intruders at her workplace are not there to steal property, but simply – as the film’s title has already made plain – to catch Karen and do her grievous harm. Yet in Lily, Karen has a reason to live, and so she will not just lie down and take what these men want to do to her without putting up considerable resistance. She will run, hide, seek ways to escape (when the exits have been chained shut), tend to her accumulating injuries, set traps and eventually engage with these towering, lumbering anonyms, all in a desperate bid to see in the dawn.
With its single setting over a single night, and with a premise accurately encapsulated in its four-word title, Hunt Her, Kill Her is disarmingly simple and stripped down in its cat-and-mouse games, observing an Aristotelian unity of time and place, and never getting bogged down in over-elaborate back- or side-story. Karen’s pursuers are, to a man, dehumanised, robotic thugs who are differentiated only by the masks that they wear, and whose repetitive lines are a perfunctory mix of misogynistic menace and procedural commentary, like NPCs from a video game. The one exception (played by JC Oakley III) is the gang’s leader, who emerges as more individuated than the rest and gets to interact with Karen through more extensive dialogue, but he is nonetheless a mere monster – and a pathetic one at that. For in this table-turning narrative, Karen may be (twice!) objectified by the title of the film in which she stars, but she is very much the film’s subject, focus and only real, fleshed-out character, while all her male persecutors are themselves reduced to moronic, ineffective objects.
While these men’s inability, despite their obvious advantages of size, strength and number, simply to hunt and kill Karen might be regarded as unrealistic, the whole film is less a real-life scenario than an allegory of (a) woman’s travails in an unequal men’s world, where every day (and night) is a struggle for survival, and for a better future for the next generation of women like Lily. It is a lean, taut, tense thriller in which male predators had better prey.
strap: In Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen’s survival thriller, a female nightshift cleaner is locked in with predatory patriarchal forces
© Anton Bitel