HOOD KILL HUNTING
Review: RJ Bland
Fairy tales and fables lend themselves particularly well to the horror genre. In some ways they are our first real exposure to anything mildly scary or troubling. Because whilst they often had 'happy endings' or some kind of moral lesson (a lot of them just seemed to be about the dangers of misbehaving funnily enough) they quite often contained a darker undercurrent too. Even hugely popular children's author Roald Dahl's books contained some pretty frightening stuff. But it's the classics that are some of the most sinister. Hansel and Gretel, The Pied Piper of Hamelin and even Snow White include elements that are quite disturbing for young minds. Little Red Riding Hood is another cautionary fairy tale that deals with some rather adult themes and it's also one that has been adapted a number of times for the screen. Red Riding Hood (2006) and Red (2014) are perhaps the most recent examples and there's even a thread of Mike Dougherty's Trick'r Treat (2007) that is inspired by it too. The story's origins can be traced back nearly a thousand years so there's clearly still something in there that resonates even today and Vincent Parronaud's Hunted is the latest film to incorporate themes from the ancient European folk tale.
Eve works for a property development company in an unspecified European country and is staying on-location. Tired of being bothered by her demanding boss and irritating boyfriend, she decides to blow off some steam and get a drink in town. At the bar she is pestered by a guy who won't take no for an answer but fortunately a handsome stranger intervenes and manages to scare him off. After some drinking and some dancing, the two of them leave the bar together but as it seems they are about to hook up in his a car, another guy gets in the car and locks the doors. The handsome stranger drops his charm offensive and Eve quickly grasps that she's in real trouble. After a few minutes playing cat and mouse, she is bound and gagged in the boot with the two psychopaths driving out into the middle of nowhere. However any twisted plans they have for her are halted when their car crashes, allowing Eve to scurry into the woods. The two men give chase and what follows is a gruelling battle for survival...
Although the premise for Hunted is relatively straightforward (two maniacs hunting a woman in the forest) there's quite a bit more going on here than the log line would have you believe. Some of it works and some of it doesn't but the ambition to elevate it to something a bit more weighty and fantastical is certainly admirable. Like the fable it takes inspiration from, the concept of reality is a little more fluid here and there's a constant sense of everything being slightly off and weird. The tone shifts quickly (but not always seamlessly) between dark, twisted comedy, survivalist thriller and full on gore fest. You are never quite sure what kind of movie you are watching. This sense of things feeling upended is also evident in the fact that the antagonists get more screen time than the woman we're supposed to be rooting for. She's actually quite an inactive protagonist until the last act and it's quite obvious that Parronaud finds his villains more interesting than his heroine. The fact that the central antagonist is a completely unhinged and is wonderfully realised by Arieh Worhalter at least means that it's still engaging but nevertheless it's a decision that downplays the tension a little. Hunted interestingly eschews the low-fi, grungy aesthetic of many of its survivalist peers and Parronaud throws in enough vibrant visuals and a strong sense of reverie to make it all pleasing on the eye.
The following part of the review contains spoilers.
So don't read on unless you've seen the film!
By the end of Hunted, it's not clear how you are supposed to feel. The hints of absurdity and surrealism truly blossom in the final fifteen minutes or so and there's a chance it may have lost you completely. I can empathise and understand completely. The random paintballing sequence and the fist fight in the show home feel almost a leap too far in terms of maintaining a grasp of the story and the characters. Those last few minutes almost felt comical and you can't help but wonder if that was the right note to end things on. Because although there were indeed fantastical elements, these were mainly restricted to the opening sequence and the subsequent appearance of animals that seemed to help Eve out. The pig caused the accident, the crow attacked the handsome guy and the dog also attacked him right at the end too. Eve also wore a red jacket which is probably the single strongest link to the Little Red Riding Hood theme. However, aside from these occasional diversions, the bulk of the film is a violent game of cat and mouse between Eve and the handsome man and it includes some real grisly moments. It could have got a lot grislier mind you if we were shown more than snippets of what the latter was watching on his camcorder.
Eve is something of a blank canvas. Usually in these films we are watching the lead try and hide and get to safety before accepting that they are going to have fight. However, we follow the pursuit through the eyes of the antagonists and it's not nice company to keep. The handsome man undoubtedly steals the show and not simply by virtue of having the most screen time. Looking like a cross between Joaquim Phoenix and John Hamm, he is as charming as he is psychotic. We're never sure how he and his partner in crime (known simply as 'The Accomplice') came together but it's clear that their relationship is exceptionally warped. I don't personally feel that the two of them have been together that long and although the Handsome Man indicates that he potentially has sexual feelings towards his 'friend', the way he despatches him is just proof that he isn't capable of any such feeling in reality. He's basically evil. The scene where he thrusts the arrow into the side of that woman's head, is shocking. On one hand he realises that she is onto him and needs to get rid of any witnesses but you just know that he is thrilled to have an excuse to kill. Thankfully the film-makers have no interest whatsoever in digging into his backstory so he remains an elusive, deranged enigma throughout. However, with Eve it's different. We needed more information, more evidence of her character. And without that the events that unfold in the woods feel a little hollow.