‘Hunter’ sets its gritty thrills in the icy chill of a Chicago winter

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Jason Kellerman (also the screenwriter) plays a Chicago homeless man haunted by a horrific crime in “Hunter.” | Random Media

Some Chicago-set movies look a lot more “Chicago-y” than others.

(The ones shot in Atlanta don’t look Chicago-y at all.)

Director David Tarleton’s gritty and blood-soaked horror thriller “Hunter” has such an authentic Chicago-in-the-winter vibe, I half-expected to find a coat of sooty snow and a film of salt on my shoes when all was said and done.

Not to be confused with last year’s Gerard Butler submarine debacle “Hunter Killer,” not to mention the 1980 Steve McQueen classic “The Hunter” (with the famous Marina City Towers car plunge) or the 2001 Willem Dafoe film “The Hunter” or the 2015 Bollywood film “Hunterrr,” this VOD release is a dark and nasty and sometimes frenetic tall tale set in the shadowy world of Lower Wacker and other decidedly non-glamorous pockets of the city.

Jason Kellerman (who also penned the sharp and tight screenplay) is the title character, a former cage-match fighter who now roams the unforgivingly frigid streets and alleys of deep winter Chicago, rattling his paper cup for spare change, haunted by flashbacks of the horrific night when a gang of bloodthirsty, seemingly possessed, monster-like maniacs murdered his mother and his sister.

In the early passages, director Tarleton favors a kinetic, rapid-cut pace that produces chills but is also overly busy to the point of distraction. While “Hunter” maintains a sense of feverish intensity throughout, I was grateful for the downshifts in tone that gave us a chance to get know more about Hunter and provided the story a chance to breathe.

Hunter finds it difficult at best to distinguish between his waking nightmares, his paranoid fears — and the possibility he really IS seeing evidence the mysterious beings that killed his mother and sister are out there again, preying on the innocent for nefarious and perhaps even supernaturally fueled purposes.

Rachel Cerda brings a calming, grounded, human presence to the story as Danni, a counselor who has the overnight shift at a homeless shelter in a dicey part of the city. Danni takes an instant liking to Hunter — a liking that crosses ethical lines when they start seeing each other personally. (“I shouldn’t be doing this,” Danni keeps saying every time she has another drink or finds herself in a clinch with Hunter. Hey. At least she KNOWS this is a really bad idea.)

Lurking on the fringes of the story is the mysterious Volakas, played by the wonderful veteran character actor Nick Searcy. (He was the priest who had the riot act read to him in “Three Billboards …,” Gen. Hoyt in “The Shape of Water” and a regular on the TV series “Justified.”) Volakas runs the shadowy gang of young predators who take to the streets of Chicago in search of new victims.

“Predator or prey?” says Volakas to one of his minions, making it clear that if the guy doesn’t come back with a victim, he better be looking over his own shoulder.

With his long coat and his obscured visage and his loner-patrolling-the-streets persona, Hunter is like a younger version of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn from “Unbreakable” — but for a long time, we’re not sure if he’s an anti-hero in the making, or if he’s just a tragically messed-up guy who might have committed some unspeakable acts and has re-fashioned his memories into paranoid delusions.

Danni has her own demons, which help to explain why she would be so drawn to Hunter. (Also, he’s hunky, and she’s gorgeous, and they’re both single, so hey …)

Jason Kellerman delivers strong work as Hunter and gives us a screenplay that’s uncompromising, unflinching — and a little bit bat-bleep nuts.

Then again, we all go a little nuts in the middle of the long cold icy Chicago winters.

‘Hunter’

★★★

Random Media presents a film directed by David Tarleton and written by Jason Kellerman. No MPAA rating. Running time: 90 minutes. Available now on demand.


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