Director: Vincent Paronnaud
Starring: Lucie Debay, Arieh Worthalter, Ciaran O'Brien, Simone Milsdochter
Run Time: 87mins
A woman flees through the woods, chased by a psycho killer. It is a familiar image. Many would argue an entirely over-used/hackneyed image in horror cinema. However, this is something that writer/director Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums) is clearly aware of as he tries to add something new to the clichéd abduction/survival thriller formula. Does he succeed? Well, sort of. The fairy tale vibe, the story is essentially a twisted re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, gives it something fresh. But it falls into some familiar traps too.
Hunted opens with a mother, credited as the huntress, (Simone Milsdochter) telling her son (Vladimir Rylandt) a fable about a religious madman who takes his followers into the woods and when they found themselves lost and starved he orders, they kill a young woman they come across for food. Only for the animals of the forest to turn on him, following the young woman's pleas. This sequence is beautifully animated and sets-up the fairy tale atmosphere nicely. But it also comes across a little heavy-handed, as it may as well have foreshadowing written in block capitals across the screen.
After this it introduces us to our lead Eve (Lucie Debay) who it is quickly established is a somewhat harassed, career woman who manages a construction site. Looking to let off steam, she goes to a bar where she meets Arieh Worthalter alter sociopathic killer (simply credited as the guy). In an all too familiar set-up he is superficially charming before quickly revealing his psychotically misogynistic nature and abducting her.
In another familiar development Worthalter has a slow-witted accomplice who he refers to as Andy (Ciaran O'Brien) although we can't be sure that is his name as there are other characters he calls Andy for no reason and O'Brien is simply listed as the accomplice in the credits. Anyway, "Andy" feels like the kind of character we have seen a bunch of times before. And his relationship with Worthalter's killer, who generally bullies, cajoles and emasculates him, is reminiscent of Junior's relationship to Krug in Last House on the Left.
The way Worthalter's character is written is nothing out of the ordinary either. He is your typical preening narcissist with a crippling need to constantly reassert his "alpha" status. And while that is a subject that feels rich for comment given the current climate, the film never really explores this form of toxic masculinity. The only comment it makes is on the pernicious influence of violent pornography. But even this feels relatively superficial. What elevates the character though is Worthalter's devilishly grinning, gimlet-eyed performance. In every passing scene he makes you hate him more and more. It is a truly captivating performance that becomes almost operatically repellent.
Unfortunately, particularly for a film with a clear feminist message, Eve is less compelling. Not because Debay puts in a bad performance, she is actually totally solid in her role, but because you never get a sense of who the character is which makes it more difficult to invest in her. Although, of course, you empathise with her plight and root for her to kill the guy but more because of how hateful a character he is than anything else.
Where Hunted excels though is in both the atmosphere and visual departments. Given Paronnaud's background in animation and comic books, it's not surprising the movie looks great. Particularly the scenes set in the wood which are made to look mystical and dream-like. You totally believe these woods are alive and can turn on you when the balance of things is upset.
Paronnaud's also does an outstanding job of keep the tension high and really doesn't mess about as the viewer is very quickly into this deadly game of cat-and-mouse and keeps the pacing incredibly taut from that point on. With the last half-hour being particularly nerve-shredding. Adding to the tension, we also have Oliver Bernet's pulsating, dread-filled electronic score.
Overall: Hunted may not be as ground-breaking as it thinks it is and suffers from some weak characterisation. But it is a taut, nasty genre exercise that adds just enough of its own personality to the survival thriller blueprint to make it a worthwhile watch.
Hunted is available on Shudder from January 14th
You can watch the trailer for Hunted here