Shudder Secrets: A Wounded Fawn Explained
Greek myths aren’t exactly Disney PG stories. Take one of the final scenes in The Odyssey, for example. Odysseus, finally back in Ithaca, slays a slew of suitors that pined for his wife, Penelope, during his absence. At the start of the Trojan War, King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, in order to please Artemis and obtain the necessary wind to sail. Or what about the end of Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex? Oedipus gouges his eyes out after realizing the truth. These stories drip with blood.
Then there are the Furies, a trio of female characters that unleash vengeance, typically upon men. Travis Stevens’ third feature, A Wounded Fawn, is an intriguing and surreal retelling of the Furies. This time, they punish a serial killer who murders women and makes them his trophies. Like Stevens’ stellar second feature, Jakob’s Wife, his latest is very much a movie about female agency and empowerment. It’s also ambitious in its use of Greek storytelling and surreal imagery. Stevens’ latest cements my feeling that he’s one of the most exciting indie horror directors on the scene today.
The Furies Explained
A Wounded Fawn is very careful never to overload the audience with too much information. Even if you’ve never read anything by Homer or Aeschylus, you can still follow the general narrative. The opening also does a great job explaining just what the Furies are in Greek and Roman mythology. The Furies, also called Eumenides, are essentially the goddesses of vengeance. The Greek poet Hesiod said they were the daughters of Gaea (Earth). They sprang from the blood of her mutilated spouse, Uranus. They’re also referred to in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
As an auctioneer details in the film’s opening, the Furies are “pursuers and tormentors of the wicked, until they atone for their crimes.” There’s Megaera (grudging), Tisiphone (punisher of murderers), and Alecto (unceasing). They’re introduced in the film by this opening dialogue and through an art auction. It’s here where we meet our bad guy, Bruce, played by the always-entertaining Josh Ruben. He desperately wants a small statue depicting the Furies.
When another bidder, Kate (Malin Barr), outspends him, he shows up at her house not long after. Before slicing her throat, he tells her that his clients simply saw something beautiful and wanted it. However, he has no clients. He’s a cold-blooded serial killer who sees women as something he needs to possess and kill.
A Wounded Fawn and Female Agency
Starring opposite Ruben’s Bruce is Sarah Lind’s Meredith. Because both characters float around the art world, they meet at a gallery opening. Meredith just exited an abusive relationship, but she’s swayed by Bruce’s charm and art history knowledge. She accepts his invitation to a weekend getaway at his remote cabin. However, soon after arriving, she hears voices warning her to get out and leave. It’s certainly more than the wind.
Bruce’s controlling behavior is on display almost immediately. During the long car ride, he frequently squeezes her thigh, despite her obvious discomfort. When she questions him about the cabin and the noises she continually hears, he gaslights her and tells her to relax. He even accuses her of being overly dramatic. This plays into the long-standing history of women being dismissed and labeled hysterical if they became too outspoken.
It’s clear from the outset that Bruce plans to make Meredith his next victim, like a piece of art to hang in his rustic cabin, or, more likely, to stuff in a barrel in the middle of the woods, along with his other victims. However, this isn’t the type of film where the female ends up the victim. By the halfway point, the script flips and Bruce becomes the hunted instead of the hunter. Meredith ain’t going down easy. That’s for sure. By the second act, Bruce spends the majority of his time running from the Furies. They’re around every corner.
A Wounded Fawn’s Use of Greek Mythos
A Wounded Fawn’s first act very much feels like a straightforward horror movie. Bruce is a creep who kills women. We have a grisly scene within the first ten minutes when he slices Kate’s throat. However, the second act very much feels like it could have been written by one of the three great Greek playwrights, just with a very surreal and feminist twist. There’s a notable change in the dialogue, for instance. It resembles a Greek play, and so do the costumes. One of the Furies is wrapped in a brown robe and wears a white stage mask, similar to a Greek chorus. Bruce eventually wraps himself in a bed sheet that looks like a toga. The women torment Bruce by frequently shouting, “Murderer! Thief!”
There’s also a constant reminder of just how bloody these stories can be. While the film has a grainy 1970s aesthetic, there’s always a hint of blood/red present. Bruce wears two red bracelets on his wrist. Meredith is shown in red underwear at one point, and when she clocks Bruce in the head with the statue of the Furies, his blood contrasts brightly with the cabin’s dull brown tones. These splashes of red constantly hint at the violence to unfold.
With his third feature, Stevens’ successfully employs Greek mythology, giving us an updated version of the Furies while very much leaning into the aesthetic of a Greek drama. He continually impresses as a director, while placing women at the center of his films. I can’t wait to see what he does next. A Wounded Fawn is another hit that blends surrealism with classic Greek-Roman mythos, leading to a gruesome and warranted payoff. This is a tale of female agency and bloody revenge.
The feature comes to Shudder on Dec. 1. Keep up with the streaming service’s latest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.