Fairy tales, grim and otherwise, make for the perfect campfire fodder. For a mother and son on a trip through the woods, the tales of men and wolves take center stage. Opening Hunted with her spooky tale, the mother warns, “the company of wolves is better than that of men.” Therein the direction of where the film will take us, a fairy tale homage that gives us men as the villain, not of the big eared and sharped toothed canine.
Eve (Lucie Debay) is a stressed-out working woman with a frustrating boss. On a business trip, after the relatable experience of work-related strain, she decides to take herself out for a cocktail. On her excursion, she’s approached by the typical relentless bar star, a man unwilling to take no for an answer. But soon, she meets a white knight, an unnamed man (Arieh Worthalter) who shoos the other away and brings fun to her dwindling evening. But this man, like the one before him, also doesn’t like being told what he can and can’t do. After inviting her to his car to make out, he locks Eve in with his accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien) and takes her on a ride. After some attempted escapes and moments that feel like she might have a shot, Eve is back on route to her supposed demise. A car accident gives her the opportunity to flea into the woods, setting off a hunt, the two men trying to get the woman in a red raincoat. Then it turns into a deranged tale of a woman refusing to be prey that bleeds from every orifice.
Looking like a grown Red Riding Hood, Eve makes her way through the woods on an aimless journey for safety, while her attackers remain in desperate pursuit. What writer/director, Vincent Paronnaud, most known for his comic art, does so successfully is keep a cat-and-mouse game engaging the whole way through. There are twists, turns, and bumps in the road hard to see coming that make room for new characters to crop up and join the game. Eve, herself, becomes one with the woods in a way she’d never be expected to. Every moment she learns to eat and drink in the woods paints her as a woman of intuition and ability. Meanwhile, the hunter is being kicked out of the woods by every branch. He trips and gets scathed, spending more time watching his old snuff videos than trying to use the woods to his own benefit. The dueling performances keep it all together, Debay selling the otherwise average woman forced into becoming a feral predator, Worthalter as the over-the-top villain who buries natural rugged charm under the mask of a maniac.
Where the film leaps towards its themes of “men being the real predators” in its adult take on Red Riding Hood, it loses itself a bit in the comedy of subject matter. Sure, it’s intentionally reflecting reality by having men hunting women, but the hammering in of sexual violence makes it more difficult to enjoy the hammy performance and depravity. In one sense, that’s the point, a woman on the run from vile men, in another, its gratuitous sexual violence in a film that might have been a full-blown midnight blast if it was just about bloody carnage. It does well enough to equate “not taking no for an answer” with the violence that comes with it, but the dialogue gets confused with its associating sex with violence and doesn’t always land perfectly.
Taking place in an unnamed European country with a collection of accents among the characters, Hunted creates a fun take on the spooky European horror that is just a bit scented with French extremity. It’s really effective and sets the tone that works with the themes and visuals.
Hunted is a grown-up homage to an old fairy tale favourite that drives home the real villains and monsters hiding under our beds. It looks like everyone involved had an absolute blast with what they made, I am just not sure if I did.