Directed by: Patrik Syversen
I’m trying to work out the message behind ‘Manhunt’. I think it is a comment on what happens when you decide to go to College or University, and leave your hometown behind. You go through an initial period of fear, and anguish, battling through a nightmarish emotional wilderness, then you come out the other side, battered, bruised and bleeding – nonetheless you somehow survive.
Its seventies Scandinavia and everybody dresses terribly. We’re on board a camper van with a young couple and a pair of siblings; at first it is difficult to do which duo are which; living in Norfolk I often encounter such groups. This is all the more confusing when these young folk are supposedly considered the classy city types, and they are heading into Hicksville. The foursome has planned a hiking trip out in the woods.
There is already dissension in the ranks. The driver Roger is in an irritable mood, and seems pissed that his lovely blonde girlfriend Camilla is heading off to college. He intensely dislikes the bloke in the back seat, a comic book nerd called Jorgen with curious sideburns. Then there is the comic book nerd’s sister Mia who looks like a goner already, with her annoying face which displays the permanent expression of a woman who has just been slapped in the face with an eel.
Stopping for supplies at a roadside café / truck stop they meet some of the locals; a transplanted group of Deep South redneck types, including a stern faced matriarch who runs the place. Inevitably these backwards blokes are warning markers for what the group are likely to encounter, they also run into a disturbed looking young woman called Renate with striking raven black hair. Roger is irritated by the lack of sophistication in the café and strikes up a conversation with Renate and offers her a lift down the road.
The story picks up, the five young folk drive on, their newest passenger gets car sick, forcing the camper van to stop. She gets out and hurls, gushing a ferocious glob of yellow. The foursome argues, and stupidly the car keys get thrown into the woodland. A grey land rover pulls up alongside the van, three rednecks get out and the hunt begins.
For the next hour we are subjected to the young folk getting shot, slashed and smashed up in the woodland, battling to survive. Given that the film is set specifically in 1974, the film is homage to the greatest independent horror movie of them all ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ – Group of friends pick up a hitchhiker / vulnerable person, who quickly afterwards meets their demise, the group then find themselves running for their lives in unfamiliar territory.
Just as Sally Hardesty escapes in the back of a pick-up truck screaming like a mentalist with blood all over her face, our heroine, Camilla who’s off the college, somehow dispatches a bunch of heavily armed experienced hunters and gets picked up by a good Samaritan, wait a minute… it’s the stern face matriarch who served the group in the truck stop. Maybe, she won’t make it out alive after all.
‘Manhunt’ could have been so much better had a back story been built about the killers, maybe somebody in the café tells the group about the history of the woods, how important hunting is in the area. Let’s have some motive, even Wes Craven did that back in his early years.
Mercifully short, we don’t have to endure much uncomfortable dialogue when the chase is on. The murky, dank natural light creates a disturbing bleak tension which works well, it’s just that some of the ‘set pieces’ don’t work. For instance it is hard to believe that the cute blonde Camilla can shoot a man fifty yards away with a homemade bow and arrow, and towards the tail end of the movie develop a killer instinct not seen since ‘First Blood’. Another note, the DVD menu screen gives away how one of the group is killed, which means that the quite clever set-up to this brutal killing loses all of its suspense.
Kidnapping and torture are regular themes in modern horror, though worryingly such despicable acts are losing their shock value. ‘Manhunt’ is fantastically shot, making the most of Norway’s serene woodlands, but it lacks the punch of the traditional no thrills intensely visceral horror movie that it aspires to emulate.