‘Night Hunter,’ a Psychological Thriller Starring Henry Cavill, Alexandra Daddario, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci
Strong performances by Sir Ben Kingsley and Brendan Fletcher as a psychotic sexual predator killer make Night Hunter an intriguing film for those who are able to pay attention. If you watch it on a small screen and take frequent breaks from focus, you may get lost with the opacity of the plot which largely rests as a mystery whose reveal builds brick upon brick and slams into crystal clarity at the end.
Written and directed by nascent filmmaker David Raymond, the film is not without flaws in its sound and audio delivery. Indeed, the fine music score at times drowns out the dialogue instead of whispering the insidiousness and suspense that is inherent in the storyline, a storyline which pays homage to psychotic schizophrenics in other films that have a better handle on terrorizing the audience, perhaps. But make no mistake. This film is not of that genre. Night Hunter has its moments and if you are a fan of Tucci, Cavill and especially Kingsley, who as usual is spot-on terrific in a small, meaty part, you will receive what you came for.
Henry Cavill portrays police detective Marshall, a “night hunter” of sexual predator/killers who has become so overwhelmed by his career that he has allowed it to occlude his family relationships. He’s lost custody of his daughter and is divorced and has been drawn inward by guilt and the darkness he hunts. His characterization is largely intuited; Cavill is dour, depressed and cold, a warning to those who believe that “hunting” killers is all fun and video games. It’s not and Raymond indicates that Marshall has been largely undone emotionally. He’s siphoned off feelings and warmth to remain sharp for his incredible journey into the minds of the psychotics. Fun it is not!
Along this particular journey looking for a murderous sexual predator, he is aided by former girlfriend Rachel, the lovely Alexandra Daddario who is a sweet-faced, kittenish damsel in distress (especially at the end). Continually against type she alternately proves she can and can’t profile killers, but nevertheless she somewhat successfully draws out the monstrously weird, mentally challenged, deaf Simon who Brendan Fletcher portrays with lightening empathy and terrifying reality.
Stanley Tucci as Commissioner Harper keeps his force together and weathers the embarrassment (it’s a humorous scene) of facing down the press and public infuriated by the police force’s incompetence at locating enough proof to put away the predator stalking their city. Unlike American Law Enforcement who readily finds their killers and then years later are upended by DNA testing which proves they got the wrong guy, Canadian law enforcement intends to get it right. Of course, amidst botch jobs and misdirection down wrong paths (the mentally challenged Simon is being abetted by someone who is keen to kill and has the brilliance to outsmart and dispatch the police) the community’s patience wears thin as the serial killer remains on the loose to strike again and again.
It is no surprise that Kingsley, who portrays retired judge Cooper converted into a vigilante who protects the community against sexual predators without killing them appears a hero. His rationale beautifully delivered to Cavill’s Marshall in the benign brightness of a diner, seems right-on and clear-eyed considering he succeeds where law enforcement continually stumbles. Well, their emotional motivations are as different as night and day. For the police, looking for predators is just a job. For Cooper it is a mission in which he is emotionally invested. Actually, women have suggested that predators be dealt with as Cooper deals with them. Stopping the assaults and ending ruining the emotional ethos and psyches of women, however, is not important enough for the male-driven law enforcement officials to even lobby for.
Law enforcement, full of brio and testosterone (Marshall, Harper) find his methods beyond the pale, except at the end when Cooper joins the team. How Cooper goes about stopping predators from their chronic obsession to sexually abuse, prey upon and even kill young women is ironic and profound. Perhaps such a method should have been used on Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and other misogynistic (rape is a crime of violence and against young and old has been characterized as a weapon of war) sexual criminals whose privilege (if they are rich) places them above the law to predatorize women with impunity.
Indeed, Cooper outshines all of law enforcement and makes the self-righteous Marshall, who can’t even get his own role as father in sync with his daughter and is in a state of panic with the predator on the loose, look like a wimp. In all fairness, Cavill is not Superman in this film which is a refreshing switch. And up against Kingsley who is just terrific, he is bested/awed in the two-minute scene where Cooper makes his case for going after predators “his” way with his side-kick the wry and sometime funny Lara (the fine Eliana Jones) as the lure for the men attracted to underage, “unwitting” GIRLS.
Not enough credit has been given to Raymond for exposing the two different approaches to sexual predation: one as a medical condition, the other as a crime whose predators, once they fulfill their sentence, move back into the culture to prey upon victims again. Law enforcement’s and the male culture’s myopia perceive sexual predation as a sexual phenomenon. It is not; it is a mental/physical condition as Cooper suggests, or worse, a hate crime especially regarding serial rapists (who eventually turn out to be killers). To end the deaths and destruction of women’s lives, Cooper’s methods seem less than harsh. However, as long as the patriarchy runs things, women will have to suffer and sexual predators, always men (identified with by male law enforcement) be given lenience. Kingsley’s performance brings all the nuance, depth and controversy to these issues. As Cooper he is heartfelt. The arc of that character’s development by Raymond is drawn well and acted superbly by Kingsley who gives the judge great substance and moment.
The themes about how “night hunters” who are hunted (the psycho killer avenges himself on the police) survive and the emotional toll it takes on them are interesting, as is Daddario’s Rachel in her empathetic sweetness to lure Simon to speak the truth. The psychological aspects of law enforcement are notes in the film, which is not just about apprehending a psychotic sexual predator/killer. See if you can figure out the mystery; clues are present.
Considering that many murders/disappearances (sex trafficking ends in murder, the womens’ bodies often disappeared) end up cold case, the elements Raymond pinpoints are vital; but as in most films about rape, sexual predators, psychotic killers, i.e. the Silence of the Lambs series, SeVen, etc., the plots are fantastic fiction regarding the success of law enforcement. Holding serial rapists and killers and sexual predators to account is hard won and more often than not, they are allowed to go free, abetted by law enforcement’s malaise about rape (see the film I Am Evidence). Thus, Night Hunter effects an interesting response to the issue of sexual predation through the characterization of Cooper, unlike any seen before. That males will easily dismiss and overlook these elements seems moot.
Currently on DIRECTTV, Night Hunter will be screening in theaters and ON DEMAND in NYC, LA and other cities beginning 6th September. Look for it.