HUNTERS Season 1: Holocaust Revenge Fantasy Embraces Grindhouse

Created by David Weil and executive produced by Jordan Peele, Hunters is a grisly and absurd depiction of revenge, prepared by a group of acrid Jews, and served up to unsuspecting Nazis. Hunters somehow enters the realm of exploitation and torture porn, reasonably unscathed. This highly fictionalized and controversial series is a grindhouse-style venture that holds nothing back when it comes to sweet old vengeance.

At one point in time, these Nazi hunters spoon-feed a platter of shit to a suspected Nazi. But pushing that trivial act of torture aside, these Nazi hunters are frequently implementing a form of retribution similar to what the Nazis carried out in the past onto powerless Jews. Does that make it right? Of course not. Is it fun to watch? In all honesty, not really. It is, however, extremely aware and extremely responsive in how it tinkers with history by adding a fair amount of pathos.

HUNTERS Season 1: Holocaust Revenge Fantasy Embraces Grindhouse
source: Amazon Studios

Hunters is an outrageous tale of revenge that bursts with the habitual blood splatter, but it still goes on to introduce the discourse on morality, justice, and responsibility. But for every naturalistic colloquy, there’s a bit of sparkle and levity by compiling specious footage (usually in the form of a television ad) involving the interracial and intergenerational crew of Nazi-fighters. (At one point in episode 3, Logan Lerman breaks out in a musical number.)

As a young newcomer joins the Nazi hunter group to get justice for his grandma, he finds himself exploring a new kind of justice that’s drenched in blood and turpitude. In the course of this violent and absurdist 10-episode affair, the line of fact and fiction is deliberately blurred, and the series wallows in its own jarring material to the point of lassitude. That being said, there’s a lot to like here.

Hunters Is A Wild & Demanding Tale Of Vengeance

The year’s 1977, and the conflict between Jews and Nazis has been officially over for quite some time. Now America is ensnared in a pressing conflict with the Soviet Union. But lo and behold, there are Nazis who have covertly infiated America, and have assumed the roles of fellow neighbors and shop-owners, even congressmen. The opening scene of Hunters instantly shows how far one Nazi would go to keep their true identity intact. What these disguised Nazis don’t know is that they are being chased down by a group of Nazi hunters lead by Al Pacino’s Meyer Offerman.

Before any ounce of barbarity and depravity ensues, 19-year-old Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) was just a normal comic book fan smoking weed and talking comics with friends. When Jonah witnesses the murder of his warm-hearted grandmother (or safta in Hebrew), Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), Jonah makes it his mission to track down her killer and fulfill justice. Jonah thinks it must have been a thief, but a bearded and distractingly accented man named Meyer Offerman — who bails Jonah out of jail when he’s arrested for carrying around a bag of drugs — is compelled to tell Jonah that his grandmother was murdered by a Nazi. Better yet, Meyer discloses to Jonah that his grandmother led a secret vigilante life that she tried to keep separate from her home life with Jonah. What kind of vigilante life, you may ask? The precarious and blood-soaked life of a Nazi hunter, alongside well-heeled family friend and Nazi hunter leader Meyer Offerman. Played by an uncharacteristically reserved Al Pacino, Meyer Offerman is this series’ Obi-Wan Kenobi, with prolific knowledge in the field of Nazi-hunting.

Through all of the exhausting exposition featured in the first episode of the series, the ending of the pilot has Meyer welcoming Jonah into the Nazi hunter team. Jonah’s met with Tony award-winning actor Lonny Flash (Josh Radner), married couple/weapons experts Mindy and Murray Markowitz (Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek), former MI6 agent, Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvaney), counterfeiter/crime-scene clean-up savant, Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), and the cutthroat Vietnam vet, Joe Mizuhshima (Louis Ozawa). Right from the get-go, Hunters prospers in diversity. Every character has their own internal plight, their own mystery, and their own attitude.

HUNTERS Season 1: Holocaust Revenge Fantasy Embraces Grindhouse
source: Amazon Studios

Josh Radner’s Lonny Flash exercises caustic wit and upholds a frivolous attitude. Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek have endearing chemistry as Mindy and Murray Markowitz, a couple who endlessly wrangles, yet deep down, they love each other. Mindy and Murray have a shared trauma from the concentration camp, and that trauma is hauntingly explored. Kate Mulvaney’s infectiously cryptic performance as Sister Harriet is one of the season’s standouts, largely because there’s more to her character than what meets the eye.  Tiffany Boone’s outstanding performance as Roxy Jones is grounded by her character’s love for her daughter. And Louis Ozawa’s compelling performance as the emotionally scathed Vietnam vet is interesting because he kills without hesitance and reacts strategically. Yet, beneath Joe’s stony demeanor, tragic recollections of the Vietnam war plagues his mind.

Just as these characters furtively take out Nazis, a resolute detective named Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton) is on their tail, and she’s also on her way into uncovering a world-shattering conspiracy. As Jonah wrestles to keep his vigilante life separate from his normal life with the people he cares about, the Nazis are forming a Fourth Reich and preparing to wage war. One by one, the Nazi hunters travel across the United States to give Nazis what they deserve: death by their own sordid tactics they used against Jews (tactics including poisonous gas and seawater). Some of the murderous Nazis we get to see is Lena Olin‘s ruthless portrayal as the Colonel, Dylan Baker‘s devilishly gripping performance as snide politician Biff Simpson, and the pitiless Nazi-American killer, Travis (Greg Austin).

Jonah Is Constantly In A Moral Quandary

Logan Lerman’s Jonah brings a young, pure, and quite possibly naive perspective to the show. For the majority of the season, Jonah is questioning the hunters’ torturing gambits. He even contemplates if there’s a more humane way to get justice. For 19-year-old Jonah, he wasn’t alive during the Holocaust, so he can’t possibly know how dehumanizing it was to endure the unbounded and unjustified wrath of Nazis. Since Jonah has no way to really know how dehumanizing the circumstances were for Jews who were submitted to concentration camps, is Jonah’s opinion of what’s right and wrong really valid?

Jonah isn’t the first one to probe Meyer Offerman’s eye-for-an-eye mentality. After one incident involving a potential Nazi, Roxy Jones begins to wonder if Offerman is crossing the line. Detective Millie Morris is keen on staying within the law to attain justice, and she’s constantly working to save Jonah from a corrupted life of violence. Jonah’s opinions are always fluctuating, as would any young soul attempting to find their way in a world that is chaotic and unforgiving. War is always raging. Whether it rages in our insides, or in an external dispute, conflict is always brewing.

The violence that befalls is gaudy, repulsive, and somewhat creative. The Nazi hunters are, for the most part, terminating Nazis with the very methods they utilized to terminate Jews. There’s a visible (if debatable) sense of justice. From the surface, Hunters does appear to inherit a similar tone to Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds, but there are sufficient sums of authenticity and poignancy seeping through the cracks of the busy script. The conversation of trauma is surprisingly potent. The Nazi hunters have their own stories to tell, and their own tribulations to wield. But even then, some of the characters, such as Millie Morris, Lonny Flash, and the Colonel, are underwritten, or left to take on inflated personas. Maybe that’s the point, but these actors deserved more to work with, and the show never wholly embraces its comic book appeal.

HUNTERS Season 1: Holocaust Revenge Fantasy Embraces Grindhouse
source: Amazon Studios

Through severe memories of Nazi Germany, shown via flashback, the Nazi’s tawdry rage is devastatingly palpable. And because we get to observe most of the characters’ experiences in concentration camps, what’s left is a deeply established hatred that can’t be easily ignored. However, there are a handful of scenes that feel unwarranted. Going back to the previously mentioned poop-feeding description, that’s one of many instances where the violence is played up to an extreme degree (the infamous chess scene also comes to mind when it comes to shock value).

With elaborate production design (Meyer Offerman’s opulent, Victorian-esque mansion is very Bruce Wayne with all of the hidden rooms) and bold stylistic choices (including many fake TV promos that are always bright and airy), Hunters is always striving to remain tonally aware. Hunters skims the surface of messy satire but then goes on to build heavy drama. Given the subject matter, sometimes the abrupt tonal shifts are incredibly alarming, to the point that the stakes are then immediately weakened.

For the bulk of the season, the dissension of the eye-for-an-eye mentality is tempting. But a grossly miscalculated step prompts the show to lose a shred of purpose.  Hunters makes a confounding turn in the finale that recontextualizes the fashion in which we perceive the entire series. A single twist, and that instantly causes the show to become thematically vexing.

Hunters Has More Nazis To Pursue, If Given Another Season

Technically competent, well-acted, and relentlessly brutal, Hunters has the ability to garner more attention as time progresses. Recognizing the show’s qualities and its consciously fictitious and exploitative nature, maybe it’ll catch on…but only if it’s renewed, of course. The first season of Amazon’s Hunters is far from being a wicked success. A bloated script, underutilized characters, off-putting tonal shifts, and questionable twists stop Hunters from being truly memorable. Hunters isn’t for everybody, but its erratic grindhouse attributes are quite appealing, and the characters have room to grow.

Have you seen Hunters? If so, what are your thoughts on the show? Let us know in the comments!

Season 1 of Hunters was released on Amazon Prime Video on February 21, 2020. 

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