Hunted is an effective and surprising survival horror thriller as we follow one woman’s attempt to escape from her would-be sociopathic abductors in this crowd-pleasing entry to the genre at Fantasia Film Festival 2020.
Vincent Paronnaud brings us a modern-day re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood as Eve (Lucie Debay) finds herself alone in the woods, after being abducted in a bar, being hunted by the personification of The Big Bad Wolf, the initially charming and friendly Handsome Guy (Arieh Warthalter) and his ‘brother’ and reluctant Accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien). But Hunted isn’t just a realistic depiction of Eve’s struggle to survive because Paronnaud imbues his film with a delightful stylistic flare and a magical-realism that truly elevates it.
What follows is a meditation on misogyny and patriarchal violence, told through the visual recollection of the Red Riding Hood fairytale, and the opening story that a mother (Simone Milsdochter) tells her son (Vladimir Ryelandt) whilst sitting around a campfire, about a woman who is saved from a pack of predatory men by a pack of wolves, to suggest that this kind of misogynist violence has been a part of humanity forever, but crucially, as we learn throughout the film, there are forces that exist to stop it.
Indeed, as Eve finds herself trapped in the boot of a car by her predators it is the incredible coincidence of a wild-hog running into the road and causing a crash that allows her to escape. Then throughout the film other animals coincidentally help Eve, at one point a crow chooses the right moment to attack the Handsome Guy, causing him to miss an attempt to shoot her. At another point a snake bites one of her pursuers.
This element of magical realism really adds to the film’s mythology and meaning. Lucie Debay’s performance as Eve quickly becomes a feral and animalistic portrayal as the film goes on, with Eve tapping into her inner-warrior and drawing from the primal and elemental world around her. She goes from scared out of her mind to full of fierceness, ingenuity and defiance. As a result her physical performance really helps you understand that nature and womanhood are intrinsically linked, and an assault on one is an assault on the other, hence the magical realism of the forest’s animals rallying behind her.
This works particularly well in juxtaposition with the devious and manipulative Handsome Guy, who goes against nature and the natural order of things, not only with his lies, and his predation and murder of anything he feels entitled to murder, women, his own accomplice and possibly even children, but also with his reliance on technology, his addiction to reviewing his past crimes on a video camera. Whilst Eve relies on nature, he relies on the crude tools of humanity to hunt her down, a bow and arrow or a box cutter.
Worthalter’s performance is pitch-perfect, giving the Handsome Guy, an understated menace, a quiet psychosis and when necessary a red-hot rage that really helps his character come across as distinctly monstrous and every bit the wolf he’s supposed to represent, several times throughout the film he uses a practised and quick-witted charm to deceive people before he devours them, but he can’t quite get Little Red Riding Hood to look at his big teeth.
All of this helps to give The Hunted a lot more unexpected depth, imagery and connotations than you might expect with a film like this, but it also nails the bare elements and horror of the visceral cat-and-mouse chase in the woods with some truly horrific and graphic moments. With that being said, the film really gets stranger and stranger as it goes on, as there are some added unexpected flares that really amps up the surrealism. In particular the non-linear re-introduction of the survivalist mother and son and the dream-like sequence of the paintball crew appearing with splashes of colour, smoke and slow motion were a stroke of genius.
Thanks to brilliant performances from its leads, the added element of fantasy and fairytale, as well as the nature vs unnatural undercurrent, Hunted becomes so much more than just another entry into the Revenge genre. It merges the old-fashioned magicality of the past with the modern feminist movement of today and creates an exciting and entertaining cautionary tale for any would-be wolves. Beware of Little Red Riding Hood, she’s not so little anymore, and what big teeth she has.
For more reviews and interviews, check out our Fantasia Film Festival 2020 coverage here