Whitetail Hunting photo

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve hunted, walking to and from your stand in the dark is spooky. On one hand, you know what’s out there. On the other, you don’t exactly—and that surge of raw fear wells up. Naturally, you push it away.

“The Hunted” pulls it in close. Scary close.

It does this little by little—first by telling a simple story we all understand well in today’s whitetail-obsessed culture. Jake (Josh Stewart) wants to be an outdoor TV star, and Callaway Outfitters owner Tony (Skip Sudduth) has set aside a giant buck named Hollywood (because you only ever see him on camera), which will help launch Jake’s career and bring notoriety to the hunting lodge. Unlike every other hunting scene you’ve ever watched in the movies, these are technically correct and convincing, and the fact that the film is produced and acted by real hunters makes it easy for us to get pulled right in.

Once there, we follow Jake and his cameraman Stevie (Ronnie Gene Blevins) as they head out for the first morning’s hunt, up to Purdy Ridge, by the old Purdy place, where the only thing left standing since the deadly fire set by the late, tormented Mrs. Purdy is the crumbling brick chimney and the dark, looming woods. Very soon, we learn that Hollywood is not the only thing lurking there.

Reaching the stand tree well before first light, Jake thinks he hears something moving, maybe a deer. As he stares—and we stare—into the blackness, straining to make something out of the void, the tortured shriek of a young woman cries out and weaves away through the trees. The sound is bone-chilling, as actress Katherine Von Till has the pathetic-yet-menacing wail down cold.

So as not to spoil the fun, I’ll stop right there about what roams the nighttime woods near the old Purdy place, except to say that it gets much worse for our hunters—and much scarier for us.

Stewart, who is also the film’s screenwriter and director, ratchets up the tension brilliantly by making us stare for long stretches into the pitch black and around the weird trunks of twisted saplings lit ghostly white in flashlight beams.

“The Hunted” is shot, quite effectively, through the lenses of our would-be star’s video cameras, trail cams, and GoPros, documentary style and reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project.” The acting is more than good enough to pull the story along, and while the dialogue goes a little over the top here and there, it generally rings true.

In the end, “The Hunted” works, and the filmmakers deserve credit for creating something totally unique. Who even thinks to make a hunting horror movie? Ultimately, the proof of the film’s effectiveness is this: I’m going to be shaking in my boots walking to and from stands in the dark this fall.

Go to hunted-movie.com to see theater listings and request a screening in your area. The DVD will be available at Wal-Mart starting in September.