Directed and co-written by Kjell Sundvall, The Hunters proves that Thomas Wolfe was right; you can’t go home again. Or at least you probably shouldn’t as the main protagonist Erik Backstrom finds when he returns to his hometown of Norrbotten. Erik is a detective from Stockholm where he gained the status of hero after catching a criminal who also shot him.
He returns home to attend his father’s funeral and he tells his brother Leif that he is returning to Norrbotten now that his kids have all grown and left home. He puts in for a transfer to the local police station and as there is a vacancy it is approved. He soon finds that small town police have a very bad habit of turning a blind eye to what they consider “victimless crime.”
In this case the crime is reindeer poaching on a massive scale. No one really cares about the Laplander’s animal’s being slaughtered as they are reimbursed by the government. Erik goes to investigate the latest incident and finds that his new partner is less than eager to pursue the matter. Once they return to the station, he discovers that the killings have been going on for a long time and he starts to realize the size of the problem.
As Erik delves deeper into the poaching problem, the local populace start to turn against him and the group of hunters he suspects include his brother. After a day of fishing one of the group Tomme starts needling Erik and he goes out to Tomme’s truck and confiscates his rifles to see if they are licensed or not.
They are not and the guns are supposed to be destroyed. Unfortunately Erik’s partner is related to Tomme and the guns are given back to him. As the heat on the men increases with each investigative act by Erik, they fall behind in their meat supplies and go out hunting in a bit of a hurry.
They spy a deer while driving through the woods and using the truck they chase it down. Tomme shoots from the moving vehicle and when the men go to find the body, they find that Tomme has shot and killed a Russian blackberry picker by mistake. The men decide to cover up the accidental shooting and things quickly turn murderous.
In The Hunters, Kjell Sunderland tells us that you don’t have to live in the backwoods of America to find rednecks or people who act like creepy “inbred” hillbillies. The feeling you get after meeting the local “boys” in Norrbotten is that they would not be out-of-place in John Boorman‘s Deliverance country or the fictional Cornwall village of Wakely in Sam Peckinpah‘s Strawdogs.
These locals are not friendly if you don’t agree with what they do. Outsiders are treated as second class citizens and they are not above ostracizing people they don’t like. When they were younger Erik moved away while Leif stayed in the village. Their father was a cruel and harsh father who beat Leif often. In a scene early on in the film, Erik says that he always felt guilty about leaving Leif behind and asks if the “old man” beat him often. Leif replies off-handily that the beatings did not hurt him and that he was okay.
The film then goes on to show that Leif is far from okay and as the two brothers begin to argue the cracks of Leif’s “good-old-boy” facade begin to show and we realise that he is in fact a pretty nasty bit of work; someone who flouts the law and is not above shooting his own dog dead for disobedience.
This Swedish film was one of the biggest hits at the box office in 1996. *Courtesy of Wikipedia.* After viewing it, you can see why. The movie has been put together extremely well and the suspense of this tight intricate thriller is almost unbearable at times. It can also be very uncomfortable to watch and not a little frustrating as we see Erik getting more caught up in the action.
As Erik uncovers more evidence that will catch the poachers, more evidence becomes hidden. When he decides to “go public” the entire town and the police department turn against him.
The film captures the small town xenophobic practice of closing in against “outsiders” and the awkwardness of returning to your childhood home and finding that things have changed and discovering that even your family has a few skeletons in the closet. The Hunters feels like a Swedish Strawdogs meets Deliverance with a dash of Walking Tall thrown in.
Spiritually the film belongs in that same sort of genre that so put the average tourist off of visiting rural America’s back roads. In this case though, I do feel like if I ever had the opportunity to visit Sweden, I’d stay on the well beaten track and avoid small villages. I am sure that Sweden is a safe place to visit as long as you don’t go hunting with the locals or wander out to pick blackberries.
Actor Rolf Lassgård plays Erik and he is an excellent actor. Well known in Sweden, he made me think (for some odd reason) of John Goodman. All the actors really sold the film with special kudos going to Jarmo Mäkinen as Tomme and Tomas Norström as the mentally challenged dog breeder Ove. I also fell in love with Helena Bergström as the Prosecuting Attorney and who has actually worked with Rolf before.
Another great “Scandi-crime” film and one well worth the effort involved to track it down. My final verdict is 4 and a half stars.
*Warning: this film contains scenes of animal dismemberment and a lot of blood and literal guts. If you are offended by seeing what appears to be real butchery of animals do not watch the first moments of this film.*