Playing like a companion piece to Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, Hunting & Sons depicts how news of an impending pregnancy is apt to drive a couple not only apart, but insane. In Sander Burger’s family drama-gone-haywire, bike shop owner Tako and temp agency specialist Sandra’s happy marriage in rural Holland is torn asunder by Sandra’s discovery that she’s with child. This life-altering development quickly exacerbates issues previously contained, be it Tako’s immaturity, hostility between Tako’s mother and both her son and daughter-in-law, or Sandra’s unhealthy body-image fixations.
It’s the last of these that truly drives the once-cheery couple into point-of-no-return territory, especially once the skinny Sandra winds up in the hospital after a fainting spell caused by malnutrition, and responds to her husband’s pleas to eat by defiantly continuing to use the gym’s rowing machine and, during a tense dinner shot with tennis-volley cinematography, to binge and purge right in front of her spouse. All the while, Sandra’s eating disorder destructiveness is matched by Tako’s acute turnaround from pot-smoking, Xbox-playing man-child—his fear over (and desire to flee from) becoming a dad epitomized by his playing a racing game—to fanatical daddy dearest, driven to protect his future offspring at any cost.
Hunting & Sons builds toward its squirm-inducing denouement slowly, amassing a raft of quotidian incidents and details (Sandra’s purchase of a beauty mag, Tako’s simmering rage at—and simultaneous protectiveness of—his mom) that deepen its characters’ vacillating psychological and emotional states. Burger’s use of long takes allows his scenes’ seething tensions, fears, and resentments to naturally mutate before our eyes. Further, his subtle, expertly expressive compositions—as in an extended foreground-background shot of Tako and Sandra in which they alternate facing each other and the screen, and ends with Tako kissing Sandra’s pregnant stomach in close-up—rigorously reflect the second-to-second shifts in the couple’s fracturing relationship.
The film’s third-act descent into domestic horror isn’t a wholly successful one, given that it’s predicated on character actions and reactions that, despite preceding material that’s ably established them, seem a tad too gonzo-hostile for a story rooted in everyday reality. Still, in its most extreme moments, Hunting & Sons locates parent-to-be conception anxieties, and the madness they can bring forth, with from-the-gut potency.