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HUNTED (2021) Review

Whilst wickedly sadistic and thrilling, Hunted rushes to the finish line without fully driving home its important message.

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Hunted (Shudder)

Synopsis

What started as a flirtatious encounter at a bar turns into a life-or-death struggle as Eve (Lucie Debay) becomes the unknowing target of a misogynistic plot against her. Forced to flee as two men pursue her through the forest, she’s pushed to her extremes while fighting to survive in the wilderness—but survival isn’t enough for Eve. She will have revenge. A SHUDDER ORIGINAL.

Review

What if Little Red Riding Hood was chased through the woods by the Big Bad Wolf only this time she went nuts and totally wailed on him? If that’s a concept which sounds appealing to you then you absolutely need to check out Hunted, a brand new original which is coming to Shudder.

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud, Hunted is nothing short of batshit crazy. But I mean that in mostly the best possible way. The film opens with a fable which is reminiscent of its overall narrative arc. Think of it like a bookend which cleverly adds some depth to the overall piece by giving it some religious and historical connotations.

From there we’re introduced to our lead, Lucy Debay’s Ève. Her character feels pretty straightforward at the outset. Ève is our Little Red Riding Hood. Working a job on location she’s separated from her friends and loved ones and decides to blow off steam with a night out in a local bar. Whilst in the bar Ève ends up in a very familiar scenario when she’s approached by The Guy (Arieh Worthalter). He claims to be on a desperate attempt to cheer up his brother, The Accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien).

The character names alone should give you a clue as to what happens next. Of course The Guy is actually a total creep. After a few drinks, some dancing and a near smooch the situation begins to take turn.

Hunted starts out with a slow decline towards grindhouse terror. There’s a character shift as The Guy begins to reveal his true colours. A palpable change in mood signifies that the situation is about to turn ugly and we’re forced to watch as Ève realises that the situation is not quite what she had expected. Her decision to abandon the pair is the first turning point where Hunted shifts gears. The second being when The Guy brutally attacked a shopkeeper with whom Ève seeks solace from her attempted kidnapping. It’s at this point Hunted kicks in to ultra-high gear.

Perhaps the oddest choice in the entire film, the inciting moment which triggers a race through the woods is a kiss between the male leads. Up to this point The Guy is known for his sexual abuse of women and The Accomplice is nothing more than a hapless victim caught up in this mess. The kiss comes out of nowhere and stands out as a strange narrative choice. But it’s also emblematic of Arieh Wolthalters delightfully vile performance.

Hunted has a number of brilliant pieces of subtext under its surface. The Red Riding Hood and Big Bag Wolf analogy is the most obvious. Ève’s red outfit is the simplest visual cue in the whole piece. But there’s also a naturist aspect as the two parties chase each other around the woods. As the narrative develops the environment around them seems to power both Ève and The Guy to become more primal. Whilst it’s less obvious with the already deplorable Guy, for Ève there’s a discernible change as the narrative steams in to its third act.

There’s a brief sojourn as Ève and The Guy come in to contact with The Huntress (Simone Milsdochter) and her son Jeremy (Ryan Brodie). Their characters re-appear from the opening fable, with Jeremy a little older, providing a brief respite from the chaos. Very brief I might add. Think of them as Grandma and The Woodsman as it were.

In its third act Hunted loses a little of its sharp focus as two primal forces do battle. No longer Ève and The Guy, this is now two seemingly unstoppable forces locked in a fight to the death. The narrative almost flips on its head as Ève teeters on the verge of becoming the aggressor. The lesson here? Don’t piss off Little Red. It’s a back-and-forth of capture, release and recapture which begins to feel like a never-ending cycle.

When the credits roll it feels as though Hunted loses some of its message of good vs. evil, woman vs. man, in its presentation. There’s a ferocity to Ève as she fights desperately to protect her life. That ferocity doesn’t wholly translate from actor to story. But the film does stand as a solid grindhouse horror which wants to share a vital message about gender politics.

Verdict

Whilst wickedly sadistic and thrilling, Hunted rushes to the finish line without fully driving home its important message.

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud, Hunted stars Lucie Debay, Arieh Worthalter and Ciaran O’Brien.


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