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D: Jonathan Mostow / 91m

Cast: Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Martin Compston, Amy Landecker, Verónica Echegui

A couple enjoying a quiet evening at home. A man (Compston) lurking in their garden. When the couple’s housekeeper lets out their dog, the man comes out of hiding, shoots the housekeeper and then heads straight into the house. He shoots the wife, and then the husband. He listens for any sound that might indicate there is anyone else in the house. Soon he is pouring something flammable over the furniture, and then setting it alight. As he drives away, flames in the house can be seen through his car’s rear window. The man has remained impassive throughout, and hasn’t said a word.

It’s a classic opening for a thriller: a hit that serves two purposes. It gets the audience asking themselves, what is going on; and it acts as notice from the makers that their movie is going to be tough and uncompromising. Except that here it also prompts another response, one that the makers won’t want audiences to think about, and piggy-backs off of that first purpose. That response is: why has this man gone to all the trouble of burning the bodies? It’s a question that’s never answered, but it’s indicative of a script that gets its characters to do lots of weird things on lots of different occasions… and by doing so, it robs the movie of any validity. If you see The Hunter’s Prayer, watch carefully and you will see all sorts of odd things going on, and where some movies can make these moments part of the fabric of the narrative, here, in Jonathan Mostow’s first movie since Surrogates (2009), all they do is draw attention to the deficiencies of a screenplay that no one thought to read more carefully.

However, this being a thriller with a degree of ambition, those deficiencies are overlooked while the plot lumbers on in search of a reason to exist. Adapted by Paul Leyden from the novel, For the Dogs (2004) by Kevin Wignall, The Hunter’s Prayer (which isn’t referenced once during the whole movie) concerns itself with the couple’s daughter, Ella (Rush), and the assassin, Lucas (Worthington), who was meant to kill her. That’s right, meant to kill her. The turgid plot that this hinges on is as follows: Ella’s father stole £25m from English businessman-cum-crook Richard Addison (Leech), and Addison wanted Ella killed first but Lucas didn’t do it in time, so her father and stepmother were killed instead. Now Addison still wants Ella killed, and Lucas has taken it on himself to protect her from the man (whose name is Metzger) and anyone else who might be hired to make it three out of three. Makes sense? No, of course it doesn’t.

To be fair, the script does address this issue, but then it quickly ignores it, preferring to see Ella and Lucas pursued across Europe in a pale imitation of The Bourne Identity (2002), whose wintry, isolated feel it tries to emulate. As usual in these kinds of movies, the pair is found easily whenever the script calls for an action sequence, and whatever efforts Lucas makes to keep them safe always opens them up to the potential of being killed instead. At one point, Ella and Lucas are on a train; he’s been shot in the leg and he’s arranged for a friend, Dani (Echegui), to treat his wound while they’re on the train. She does so, persuades Ella to get off at the next stop, and then attempts to kill Lucas by giving him a drug overdose (did you know Lucas was a high-functioning addict whose drug of choice is supplied to him by Addison? Don’t worry, there’s more). Thank God that the script’s choices of adversaries for Lucas are as dumb as a box of spanners, otherwise he would have been dead within the first fifteen minutes.

Despite the occasional attempt to intercept and kill them, Ella and Lucas make it to England, where Lucas has a hideout that’s conveniently in the same city, Leeds, that Addison has his business HQ. By now, the movie has decided to be as reckless with its own (limited) internal logic as it wants to be, and it sends Ella off to kill Addison at his offices. You can guess how successful she is from the image above, and while Lucas goes cold turkey in a matter of hours, Ella is put in the care of FBI Special Agent Gina Banks (Landecker), who is in Addison’s employ (don’t ask. No, really, don’t). There’s some guff about the £25m being hidden in a bank account only Ella has access to, and then everyone shows up at Addison’s country estate for the final showdown, which handily involves just three security guards for Lucas to get past, and Addison’s young son popping up with a bow and arrow (again, don’t ask).

There’s a real sense as you’re watching The Hunter’s Prayer that it’s all being made up on the spot, and that the movie has been shot in sequence with everyone improvising everything from character motivation to dialogue. If true, it explains why there are so many little ironies dotted throughout, or as on one occasion, a giant irony when Addison decides to spare Lucas because he’s not worth it, but still intends to kill Ella as an example to others. There are more – a lot more – but they all go toward making the movie feel like a terrible waste of everyone’s time and effort. Worthington isn’t the world’s best actor, and there are moments where his “skills” are cruelly exposed, as in the scene where Lucas explains to Ella that he can’t kill her. His expressions are bad enough, but what he does with his hands? Wow. Just – wow.

The rest of the cast run Worthington a combined close second in the bad acting stakes, with Leech overdoing his smarmy crook routine, Landecker struggling to make her FBI agent look and sound convincing, and Rush labouring under the optimistic impression that Ella is more than just a tired plot device. By the movie’s end it’s only Compston who gets off lightly, and that’s because he has so little dialogue. Attempting to organise it all, Mostow does what he can but most dialogue scenes are flat and don’t build on anything that’s gone before – at least not in a meaningful way – and the movie plods from action sequence to action sequence with all the intensity of a skin care advert. Only the action sequences themselves prove diverting enough, with Mostow and editor Ken Blackwell atoning for the poor choices made elsewhere and making them genuinely thrilling.

Somewhat inevitably, The Hunter’s Prayer is another movie that has sat on the shelf waiting for a distributor brave enough to take it on and give it a belated release. Shot in 2014, it’s further evidence that some movies really should be cancelled at the pre-production stage. It’s hard to believe that Saban Films saw enough in this to release it three years on, and it’s even harder to believe that this will gain any kind of an audience outside of the merely curious, or fans of Sam Worthington. Forgettable and beyond second-rate, it’s a movie that should be avoided at all costs. Seriously, if it’s a choice between this and a rectal exam, choose the rectal exam. It’ll be a lot less painful and it’ll be over sooner.

Rating: 3/10 – the kind of movie that should win a Razzie Award, The Hunter’s Prayer undermines itself at every turn, and wastes more opportunities than most movies of its type; banal, derivative, trite, depressing – it’s all these things and more, and a movie that you can bet will not be one that anyone involved in it will be highlighting on their resumé.