Review – Hunted (2021)

Hunted poster

Overview

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. 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 modern and radical take on the Little Red Riding Hood fable. (Shudder)

Length 1 hour, 27 minutes

Release Date January 14th, 2021 (Shudder), September 7th, 2020 (Belgium)

 

Rating N/A

Distribution Shudder

Directing Vincent Paronnaud

Writing Vincent Paronnaud, Léa Pernollet

Starring Christian Bronchart, Lucie Debay, Ciaran O'Brien

Shudder caught some attention last year for recently picking up several female-centric horror films to be premiered in the United States on its streaming service. Hunted is the first of them I’ve seen so far. The service has done a good job curating interesting horror films from around the world, such as Blood Quantum and One Cut of the Dead, and this modern adaptation of “Little Red Riding Hood” certainly came with the potential to be an interesting modern retelling!  

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Some extreme gore and bloody death scenes throughout; characters are brutally killed and die in pools of their own blood. Not for the faint of heart. 
Language/Crude Humor: Some excessive language. 
Drug/Alcohol References: Casual smoking and drinking.
Sexual Content: Numerous references to sex, sexuality, rape, pornography and sexual violence that are relevant to the plot and themes.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: Themes of violence, vengeance and sexism. 
Positive Content: Themes of anti-sexism, justice and freedom from oppression. 

Review

Disclaimer: Geeks Under Grace was provided with a screener copy of the film by the distributor to preview and review prior to the release date on January 14th, 2021

It’s common knowledge that classic fairy tales were once considered tools of discipline and fear. Mothers would tell their children scary stories of monsters and creeping evils outside their windows that reminded them of the importance of staying on the straight and narrow path.

A classic story like “Little Red Riding Hood” takes an archetypical symbol of goodness and childhood innocence and exposes her to the rawness and evil of nature, where strange evils stalk the night with the sole desire to consume her. Such lessons might not have been literally true, but they did impart the wisdom of the past and convey basic moral virtues to young people at an impressionable age. The world was, and is, a dangerous place after all. Reminding children of the importance of virtue and precaution is valuable in every age, even if it requires a greater appeal to the ethereal “other” that we all fear churning in the darkness and chaos outside of civil society.

Today, the term we’d use to describe such stories is “reactionary”. We still have most of these stories preserved in the cultural collective knowledge but we’ve grown more symbols to the wisdom and fear that created such fearful stories. Modern-day retellings of these tales are more interested in reframing the archetypical relationships and stories present in these collectively understood narratives. In recent fairytale films like Maleficent and Frozen, the archetypical stories are flipped on their head. These modern stories want to expose how the fear of the other is just another way of expressing forms of hatred. The classical villains of those stories are rewritten as misunderstood anti-heroes who are oppressed by a society that fears their power.

Hunted, a recent horror-thriller being distributed by Shudder, is another film is in this trend. The story is a VERY loose retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” but reimagined to emphasize modern day fears of sexism and sexual violence. The prologue of Hunted retells the basic story in a very deconstructionist and progressive way. Instead of being the story of a woman being stalked by a hungry wolf, the heroine described is the presumed victim of a cult of cannibalistic crusaders who believe it’s their divine right to retake the Holy Land and do anything necessary to achieve it. At the last minute, two wolves save her and carry her away to nature for her own safety. She’s never seen again.

The fantasy of this prologue is not the fantasy of exploring the fear of the dreaded “other”. The fantasy of Hunted is the desire to be whisked away from a society that treats women as objects to be consumed to upload dangerous patriarchal systems. The story properly uses this prologue as a kind of thematic reflection of the story that follows. Set against modern-day Europe, a young French woman is going about living her life when she suddenly finds herself persistently stalked by men she met at a bar one night who want to take advantage of her sexually. She flees them but they become persistent and begin chasing her further into the woods. The female lead, Eve, is forced to make do as a survivalist until she can take her revenge on the man trying to hurt her. 

Casual sexism and aggression are rather unsubtly woven into the dialogue at all times. The film doesn’t want you to go long without thinking about the pressure our lead character feels as she’s trying to go about her days. Even when the film is still set in civilization, the movie’s atmosphere bears down on the viewer with an overwhelming sense of stress that our lead actress is forced to endure.

The male characters are all unintentionally off-putting or overtly homoerotic and hostile. There is hardly a single male character in the film that isn’t even accidentally sexist or hostile to Eve. Even the ones who are nominally on her side or neutral swear at her or make her feel threatened. The main villain, named only as “the Foreman” in the credits, is a relentlessly horrific and evil character. He’s clearly some form of a serial killer who enjoys filming women as he kidnaps, rapes and kills them for his own enjoyment.

He’s already loathsome enough before we find out most of this. He’s driving around with his accomplice for the first half of the film, bragging about sex and listening to Euro-pop renditions of Flight of the Valkyries (a reference to the song’s use in Apocalypse Now where the bravado of American marines is shot in contrast with the devastation caused by the war in Vietnam). There’s hardly even a human behind this character’s eyes. He’s misogyny personified. 

I suspect the revenge thriller aspect of the film will be its primary appeal for progressive audiences. Hunted has a fairly schlocky premise even by the standards of a horror film and it’s clearly being executed on a budget. It mostly compensates by keeping its conflict contained and centered on a small cast of characters but the roles they play end up coming off excessive. It plays its themes too schlocky. It definitely breaches the line between realistic artistry and B-Movie melodrama.

I understand why the film is so scornful of course. Thematically, the intent of such a story is not hard to understand. Modern feminism speaks frequently of women’s fear of male sexual power and the societal standards that prevent women from feeling comfortable walking down the street safely in some settings. I can’t say the film necessarily succeeds though. The film works better early on as a suspense thriller. Once it turns into a survivalist revenge story, it descends into insanity until the film’s final indulgent moments.

Ironically though, a film like Hunted ends up going so far into its vengeance fantasy that it loses itself in its Freudian id. It develops an ironic glee for violent retribution and may just be reactionary in a different way than a classic story like “Little Red Riding Hood”. Eve doesn’t fear monsters. She fears a society of cartoonishly predatory men and retreats to nature where society can’t hurt her.

As the late Roger Scruton would say, we’ve become a society of “oikophobes”; a society that irrationally fears the familiar. If older European fairytales overplay the fear of the other, this film’s utter fear of the capability of her fellow man’s evils is an almost hilarious overcorrection. The film is anti-sexist pornography (not that sexism is a good thing). What does that make a film like Hunted that indulges in the vicious destruction of the human body and enjoys watching its character take quasi-sexual glee in crushing her unsympathetic unnamed villain into a mess of blood and gore? 

Like other recent anti-sexist films like Captain Marvel, it understands what it’s satirizing but doesn’t find the humanity and human drama in its story to elevate itself outside of its genre trappings. It’s a story lost in a premise. Recent films like Unsane, Elle or Room cut to the core of the ideas much more efficiently. As a fan of B-Movies, I can definitely attest to the appeal of a film like Hunted. It has several moments of glorious schlock. If you’re already a subscriber to Shudder, I’d say it’s probably worth a view if you’re looking for a quick horror flick to relax too! I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to catch it though. 

Positives

+ Solid cinematography and acting
+ Efficient use of low budget and limited resources
+ Fun gore/schlock moments for horror fans

Negatives

- Overbearing and possibly indulgent themes
- Some cartoonish writing

The Bottom Line

Hunted is a film that a certain kind of progressive horror fan is going to love! It's a melodramatic, B-Movie premise with some moments of intense tension and catharsis in spite of the fact the film never fully fits together as a full story.

 

6.8

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

Leave a Reply