Hunted begins with a mother (Simone Milsdotcher) telling her son (Ryan Brodie) a fairy tale about the forest they’re in protecting a woman from those who would do her harm. By doing so, Oscar nominated director Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis, Asylum: Twisted Horror and Fantasy Tales) and co-writer Léa Pernollet, (English dialogue/translation is credited to David H. Pickering), serve notice from the start that their film is one also. It’s Little Red Riding Hood, updated and given some modern themes. It’s not the first time this has been done, is it one of the better versions?
Eve (Lucie Debay, The Barefoot Emperor) has had a shitty day at work and her boyfriend (?) Alex keeps calling her. Frustrated she heads to a club, leaving her phone at home. She’s almost immediately hit on by a creep (Ciaran O’Brien, The Boy from Mercury, Ripper Street) who is chased off by, and this is how he’s referred to in the credits The Guy (Arieh Worthalter, The Take). Needless to say the two were working together and she soon ends up in the trunk of their car.
She manages to escape and flee into the woods. But her wrists are still bound and her abductors are close behind. And there’s no huntsman in sight to rescue her.
At first glance Hunted sounds similar to another film it shared the Fantasia spotlight with, Alone. Both revolve around a woman in the wilderness struggling to avoid becoming a psychopath’s latest victim. But while John Hyams was content to craft a remarkably tense thriller, Paronnaud has more on his mind that just thrills.
The thing is, for all Hunted wants to make points about misogyny and violence against women those messages are a matter of perception and culture. You could have made this exact same film in the 70s or 80s and it would have been taken as a warning to women about the perils of going home with strangers and one night stands. It would have been Eve’s fault for leaving the bar with her attacker. Her red jacket would be seen as a sign she was a “scarlet woman” . The script doesn’t change the way the story is told, time has changed how it’s perceived.
As a female empowerment film Hunted is also a bit lacking. It’s not until the last third of the film that Eve becomes a force to be reckoned with. That’s also about when she apparently slips into insanity. Paronnaud and Pernollet also muddy that message with a sequence involving the mother and son from the opening. A sequence that also features a plot twist that while unexpected and ghoulish, is one of the most unbelievable things I’ve seen in a while.
Hunted should have leaned harder into the connection between women and nature that exists in almost all folklore. It’s raised at the film’s start but only sporadically used in the film. And then it’s nature taking the incentive, Mother Nature protecting another woman rather than Eve making a connection to that heritage. Instead she becomes Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
When it’s not trying to be profound, Hunted is an above average, if familiar, thriller with two solid performances from its leads. Worthalter in particular makes a chilling villain. Once he lets his mask slip it’s obvious that he’s psychotic and dangerous even before we see him get violent. After that he becomes an unhinged and unstoppable menace, the big bad wolf in human form. That is what the film should have focused on, Eve’s rising to face and defeat this unstoppable beast. Instead it brings in to many other details and ultimately delivers a message that isn’t very empowering.
Hunted will premiere on Shudder January 14th.