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Hunted

{Fantasia 2020} Hunted Review- Fairy Tales And Horror Delight

The brutal and gorgeous Hunted brings Red Riding Hood to life in a completely new way. Beware, this film has teeth.

If you think you know the story of Red Riding Hood, you don’t. There have been tons of revenge stories like I Spit On Your Grave and Revenge. It’s a brio we have seen before, but you’ve never seen it delivered in such an overtly female way. Hunted is feminine rage come to life. A beautiful fairy tale told in whispers and reverent tones by someone who loves them. It’s a fable cautioning men to stay back because something wild lurks in our hearts and once tapped into, there’s no going back. Melding genres together, director Vincent Paronnaud creates something that feels like a dark fantasy but cuts like a horror movie. Hunted is a satisfying slice of feminist power presented stunningly. This isn’t your Mama’s Grimm Fairy Tale.

Eve, the ethereal and fragile seeming Lucie Debay, is a young professional who has a concerned but clingy boyfriend and a demanding male boss. She goes out one night to blow off some steam and meets who she thinks is a nice guy. The Guy, as he is billed, Arieh Worthalter first appears to be kind and charming. He’s attentive, funny, and sexy. Worthhalter does a great job in the early scenes playing the “nice guy” role given who he later becomes. Both physically and emotionally, he becomes a different person in the film’s tipping point. He doesn’t just sound different later; he looks different.

Hunted

Unfortunately for Eve, he is not a good guy. He is a serial killer who lures her into his trap, and with the help of a doofus sidekick, they taser, kidnap, and drive her into the woods. Through a series of timely animal interventions, she manages to escape, and the hunt is on. Eve is resourceful, determined, and has Mother Nature on her side. The two men learn some prey don’t go down easily. As Eve runs from the men, she uses rocks, animals, and her environment to thwart them. They use leering taunts and a box cutter. The metaphor is explicit; men are brutes, and women are the majestic “great wild.”

The opening sequence is breathtaking. French graphic novelist turned filmmaker Parronaud is in his element here. It is a highlight and instantly captures the tone of the film. Taking a page from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it looks and sounds like an age-old scary story come to life. The rest of the film isn’t quite as successful, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in commitment.

Debay is fully committed as she swings from irritated, terrified, and finally to rabid. She sells the transformation with a highly physical, engaging performance that is as untamed as her environment. The more time she spends in the forest, the more she seems bolstered by the wildness. It isn’t so much her inner warrior she is tapping, but her inner beast she is revealing. Toxic men maybe pigs, but Eve is a lioness. Regal, and vicious, she makes no qualms about taking the fight to her attacker.

Symbolism is heavy in Hunted. Our protagonist is named Eve, and she is a stand-in for every woman. Eve wears a red hooded jacket and is being pursued by the Big Bad Wolf courtesy of The Guy, who is never named only labeled. He is a place holder for every entitled toxic male. The movie is savage just as Eve is when she turns the table late in the film, but The Guy is a little too stereotypically psychopathic to be socially impactful. He’s a closeted gay man who hates women because his mother was mean to him. Instead of being a symbol for entitled monsters who hide in plain sight abusing and overpowering women, he is a cartoon sadist that predictably gets what’s coming to him.

Hunted

Where most survival/revenge horror is told through the lens of a male gaze, Hunted stays firmly with Eve and never boxes her into gender rules. She isn’t sexualized except by the killer, of course, but even that is done with words more than deeds. Contrary to previous abductions, his brief attempts at raping are wildly unsuccessful. The killer insists on carrying a camcorder everywhere, which he whips out to reminisce when things get hard(no pun intended). The tongue in cheek quality to the antagonist’s machismo while menacing is oddly playful. The man is a walking joke, an archetype that time has passed by. It’s almost as if we are voyeurs watching a morality play that we already know the ending of. In many ways, we did. Worthhalter is outstanding, but he is more a cardboard symbol than a fully-fledged character.

It’s a minor complaint, however, as the showdown between Eve and her attacker is fun to watch and deeply cathartic. It doesn’t matter that she’s not fighting a complete character. She is fighting every man who has ever belittled, trivialized, controlled, or assaulted a woman. Debay sells the conceit even without a more complex villain.

In the final act, Eve and The Guy face off in an idyllic suburb with a promotional poster touting the perfect way of life homes in the community could offer. Even minor set pieces like the poster are essential in Laois Hendrickx’s production design. A traditional two-parent with two children family is shown with two daughters, and the mother is just slightly in front of the father. It’s subtle and almost subliminal, but that attention to detail keeps the film grounded in the right camp.

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The Guy’s sidekick is only around for a fantastic amount of blood and injuries and for a brief gay subplot that is more for expository than intrigue. It also gives our antagonist a punching bag. He squeals literally like a pig in places. His major wound and that of a smaller character midway through showcase some killer practical effects sure to woo a gore hungry crowd. Sound effects are juicy and disgusting. There is an especially nasty couple of bits with an arrow that even if you don’t watch, you can tell what’s happening with the noise. Per usual in a genre film, things get progressively grosser and weirder. Hunted exploits gaping wounds and sticky blood successfully. It is an unrelenting onslaught of vulgarity that will be appreciated by the horror crowd.

As the film progresses, things get decidedly weird with toad vomiting and model house war as he chases Eve throughout the home. There are two takeaways from this fight. One, she is inventive and willing to do anything to survive, and this house was not made well. A well-choreographed scene mimics a domestic abuse encounter. She beats him with her bare fists as he continuously says “he’s sorry” reminiscent of many abuse situations. Hunted uses tired and outdated gender rules to redefine what it means to be human.

This experimental genre film may not land all its tricks, but it lands enough of them to be a midnight favorite at Fantasia Fest 2020. Fans of Shudder will surely be thrilled as this one is headed to the horror streamer. Hunted is an artful but decisive middle finger to all the men who think they can take whatever they want. The misogynists, oppressors, and abusers better watch out. Let this serve as notice, grab our pu*@y unwanted, and you might lose a finger or two.

Catch all our Fantasia Fest 2020 coverage here.

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