Zachary’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'm very prone to falling for films that can give me an experience unlike anything else, and that's the name of the game with The Night of the Hunter. I find it difficult to even discuss the technical qualities of the film because it feels so incomparable to anything I've seen, or maybe it's a melting pot of it all. It's gorgeous, yet haunting. Almost cartoonish, yet deeply rooted in its adult themes.
As I was coming to these realizations while watching, I came to a certain realization. To me, the entire experience and tone presented here feel much like a child's interpretation of the world. The big, scary man is always cloaked in shadows, and very rarely is there a shot of him that isn't from a low angle, making him look larger than life; a vision that has to be terrifying to a child. Almost every single role is overplayed to the point that they become a caricature of themselves. Almost, that is, because the protagonist's ultimate caregiver seems to be the only one with a level head. The single place of repose for the child is with that woman, hence she is made to be more realistic.
Again, although the film examines the world from the perspective of a child, it remains rooted in its adult themes. This may seem like a contradiction, but I think it's necessary given the subject. The boy has been flung into a situation where he is required to act like an adult, so why wouldn't he think like one? So, throughout the piece, we are being presented with the perspective of a young boy who has yet to be grown enough to fully understand the world around him. But through the plight of him processing his present trauma, he can distinguish right from wrong. Not only are the perils of his life larger than he can properly perceive, but he can discern how legitimately dangerous they are to his wellbeing. That dichotomy of child-like wonder and real-world terror is what makes this film so special to me.
Also, not to bring Lynch into literally everything I talk about, but there are some very clear aspects of this film that I can see having a major influence on his work. In fact, there a shocking number of similarities here that only made me appreciate it even more. It has those same aspects of phantasmagorical horror and wonder that are ever-present in Lynch's body of work. In addition, there's the core of a simple good vs evil clash at the center of a mystifying work, the fascination with singing mysterious, droning tunes as a plot device, and the emphasis on relying on an instant, emotional reaction to determine your interpretation. Apologies for being such a fanboy, but this most certainly feels proto-Lynchian and I love the hell out of it. It's a 5/5 regardless, but boy oh boy is that some nice icing on the cake.