Rovdyr (English title: Manhunt). 2008. Directed by Patrik Syversen. Screenplay by Nini Bull Robsahm & Syversen.
Starring Henriette Bruusgaard, Jørn-Bjørn Fuller-Gee, Lasse Valdal, Nini Bull Robsahm, Janne Beate Bønes, Trym Hagen, Kristina Leganger Aaserud, Helge Sveen, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Erlend Vetleseter, Jorunn Kjellsby, Martin Slaatto, & Kristofer Hivju.
Euforia Film/Fender Film.
Not Rated. 78 minutes.
The idea of a slasher mixed with the backwoods survival genre isn’t anything new. Neither is setting a horror movie in the retro setting of the 1970s. On top of that, a group of friends travelling and getting lost in the woods? Certainly not reinventing the wheel. And still, Patrik Syversen’s Rovdyr is a harrowing ride into the Norwegian wilderness. Yes, Syversen takes cues from Craven’s The Last House on the Left (as in the same song by David Hess opens both films), Tobe Hooper and his groundbreaking Texas Chain Saw Massacre, among others. I feel like certain critics and audiences forget that homage is not copying. This film doesn’t outright lift from other movies, Syversen merely injects the films that clearly influenced him into Rovdyr. It never measures up to any of its predecessors and the horror by which it is inspired. But there’s still a good deal of suspense, tension, and we get to care for some of the characters before their inevitable deaths; more than that certain characters produce the opposite effect, written to make the whole story play out with bit more depth. Many will just take this for what it is and won’t bother paying too much attention to the details. Nothing spectacular. However, I can’t not give Syversen the credit he’s due. Rovdyr is a fun throwback piece of backwoods slasher madness.
The initial twenty minutes is very typical of a genre film tackling the backwoods sub-genre of horror. First, we see a helpless victim wandering in the forest, being hunted down like an animal. A little after that we’re introduced to a group of four, travelling into the forest-covered back roads of Norway – there’s a brother and sister pair, along with a friend and her quasi-abusive boyfriend. Then once they pick up a woman at a diner, this enacts the Hooper homage, as she’s the one to ultimately shuttle these friends to their horrific fate; not necessarily intentional, but nevertheless that’s how it happens. Even though it is typical at many turns there’s still an enjoyable element to this opening. Never once do you feel any light shining in on these people, as in the atmosphere and the tone is grim. The mood is consistently eerie, ominous even. You know something’s coming. When the woman at the diner comes into play this only deepens that sense of danger.
A certain degree of why the atmosphere is so evidently dark comes from the cinematography. To go along with the period piece, set in 1974, cinematographer Håvard Andre Byrkjeland makes the entire film feel like it was shot back then, or close to it as possible. There’s a gritty quality to the scenes, as well as everything feels dark, moody. The natural light of the forest give us plenty of gorgeous shots, the type that you might not expect in such a vicious little flick. Despite its genre or sub-genre, Rovdyr has a fine look. All the better to creep you with, my dear, as the practical effects, the blood, the mess, it provides a nice juxtaposition of eeriness. To see such natural locations captured with a great eye, splattered here and there with the blood of the innocent is rightfully jarring.
When people want the nasty horror, the good practical effects and everything that makes a scary movie visceral, what do they really want? If they’re not satisfied with at least this aspect of Rovdyr, I’m not sure exactly what they’re looking for in their slashers, particularly in the backwoods sub-genre. Right from the first gunshot, then the torn up ankle, it’s so clear these guys are not messing around. The horror quickly becomes brutal. Then, Syversen does a great stutter step, taking us to a quiet, subdued moment. It’s one that is filled by emotion, panic, fear, but quiet. We go from a psychotic scene of violence to a lull, which isn’t bad. This sort of takes us down a notch to allow us a few minutes to adjust. After that Syversen and Co. take us on a further ride through the blood soaked Norwegian forest with this unfortunate group of young people.
I’ve seen a bunch of reviews that say there’s no character development and that the plot goes nowhere. Absolutely, we do spend our time in a singular story about four people hunted down by (mostly) unseen maniacs. But that doesn’t mean nothing happens. The story of the main woman Camilla (Henriette Bruusgaard), her slightly abusive boyfriend, is compelling. There’s not a massive amount of fleshed out character or plot. At the same time, you can’t deny there’s something cool about watching Camilla go from that timid, on the verge of being abused woman to someone able to overcome and survive the relentless abuse and assault of unknown killers. And everyone WHINED about Rob Zombie turning Michael Myers into a killer with a backstory, a troubled childhood, yet when you get a few veritably homicidal slashers in a movie like this, hunting people down indiscriminately with maximum terror, they say “Oh well that’s not enough” or they needed more. There’s no pleasing everyone. Me, I thought the characters were interesting, I cared about Camilla and hated her boyfriend Roger (Lasse Valdal), and the whole arc of their relationship through the ordeal was well-written, decently acted, providing a nice tough for the finale later on.
It isn’t great, it’s never going to be a classic or a cult classic either. Rovdyr is still full of sick enjoyment for the horror fans out there. When you want one of those mindless slashers filled with backwoods terror, this is one for you. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless, nor does it signify this isn’t a good movie. Definitely a decent little bit of horror out of Norway, and I hope for more, as they’ve put a few in the genre that have actually impressed me; some more than others. Director Patrik Syversen (along with a script he and one of the stars Nini Bull Robsahm wrote together) makes this into a tense story with very little plot movement, and it’s able to keep interest, to keep the viewer on edge. The practical effects work wonders, especially as the film wears on and things get even bloodier. Don’t discount this by reading what people on IMDB say – you never should – and don’t think anything too highly of my opinion in the end: judge for yourself. Just know that if you pay attention, if you get into the characters and let the homage of horror classics take you away, Rovdyr is an enjoyable, reasonably paced 78 minutes worth your time.