Scandinavian thrillers have become hugely popular since Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy of novels were released, posthumously, to almost unanimous acclaim in 2008. The film adaptions continued this success, kickstarting a craze for Scandinavian crime thrillers that has seen TV series’ including The Killing, The Bridge and Wallander gain widespread praise, as well as movies such as Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters (Nesbo’s similarity in style to that of Larsson has seen the movie rights to several of his novels snapped up and said movies rushed into production). What better time for this 1996 Swedish thriller to get dusted off for a DVD release?
Returning to his quiet home town from Stockholm for his father’s funeral, Eric Backstrom (Rolf Lassgard) accepts a position in the local police force. His first case is to investigate an incident of poaching, the evidence pointing toward local hunter Tomme (Jarmo Makinen) and his friends, but as he attempts to find evidence of Tomme’s guilt, he discovers links to both his police colleagues and his own brother, Leif (Lennart Jahkel).
The Hunters is a perfectly entertaining thriller, but unfortunately it is rarely anything special. My main issue with the movie was that it brings so little in the way of fresh ideas to the table. The opening scene of slaughtered reindeer being decapitated and gutted (which appeared to be genuine footage) was pretty stomach churning, as an opening gambit it certainly caught my attention and pointed towards something quite dark and challenging, but what comes after is a very standard thriller. The first half of the movie does a great job of examining small town life and sets up the various relationships and characters motivations with skill and a focus that is otherwise missing from the rest of the movie. The problem is the story, as I found it hard to care about the outcome of Eric’s investigation. For a start, each twist and turn and revelation is entirely predictable, so we spend a good chunk of time watching Eric very slowly discover facts that the audience is well aware of. The pacing really suffers because of this, and a little careful trimming of fat would have done wonders. The other problem is Eric himself, his ego seeming to be his primary motivation, which makes him rather unlikeable for the supposed hero of the piece. After becoming a little ponderous during the second act, things pick up in the third, Leif comes to the forefront of the story and his battle of wits with brother Eric puts a little fire in the film’s belly. It’s here that The Hunters really succeeds, racking up the tension and the tragedy on the way to its highly satisfying conclusion.
If this has made The Hunters sound rather unsatisfactory, it’s only because it seems to waste quite a lot of potential, but the good points still heavily outweigh the bad. The atmosphere of small town hostility and conspiracy is well crafted, owing perhaps a little to Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, and the characters and locations add a welcome authenticity to proceedings. The performances are solid throughout. Jarmo Makinen is unpleasant and menacing, but gives his smirking, thuggish villain Tomme enough shade that he doesn’t become a one-note monster. Rolf Lassgard is dependably stoic as the determined, moral and occasionally self righteous Eric (the issues I had with his character were script, rather than performance, related). Lennart Jahkel gives probably the best performance as Eric’s conflicted brother. As Leif’s involvement in the story is uncovered and his role becomes more prominent, he’s able to display a considerable range and an intensity that makes his scenes the most fascinating and explosive in the movie.
Overall, The Hunters is a very serviceable, entertaining movie with fine, authentic performances. It is marred slightly by pacing and story problems that make the second act something of an unwelcome slog, but is still worth a shot.
Director: Kjell Sundvall
Writers: Kjell Sundvall , Björn Carlström
Stars: Rolf Lassgård, Lennart Jähkel, Jarmo Mäkinen
Runtime: 113 min