Review by Sean Boelman
The solo debut of French filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis), Hunted is an unexpected take on a familiar genre. Inspired in equal parts by fairy tales and classic revenge movies, this satire of toxic masculinity often works pretty well, but misses the mark in terms of characterization.
The movie follows a young woman who, after meeting who seems to be a charming guy at the bar, finds herself in a game of cat-and-mouse, although her psychotic pursuer doesn’t seem to realize who he’s up against. Blending a bunch of tropes from a few different horror genres, the film keeps the viewer on edge, for better or worse.
In a lean hour-and-a-half, Parronaud and co-writer Léa Pernollet manage to pack in a surprising amount of thrills. However, these scenes, much like the story itself, don’t quite come together into a greater whole. There’s also a feeling of repetition that is frustrating. Although the tension and brutality of the sequences do escalate, the movie establishes a basic formula early on and sticks to it.
Perhaps due to the obvious fairy tale connection (the wolf allegory is pretty clear), the characters feel rather shallow. There are really three main players: the hero, the villain, and the villain’s accomplice. And while it is admirable that the protagonist is written in a way that counters the damsel-in-distress archetype, it would have been nice if she had both strength and depth.
That said, the caricature-like nature of the antagonist does work quite well to explore the themes of misogyny and chauvinism. The reason that this movie is scary isn’t its gore, but rather the fact that the villain is just so menacing. And while there are a few over-the-top moments, some of his comments and actions ring terrifyingly true.
Arieh Worthalter gives what may be one of the most impressive villain performances in a horror movie in quite a while. It’s impressive how he is able to flip that switch from charming to threatening in an instant. Lucie Debay’s lead performance is also great, providing an excellent foil to Worthalter, and showing just as much range.
Visually, the film is definitely very interesting thanks to Paronnaud’s highly-stylized approach. An animated sequence kicks the movie off, giving us the folklore context before throwing us into the modernized version of it. Without a doubt, Paronnaud knows how to build suspense, but he also brings a tongue-in-cheek sensibility to it, adding some dark humor to the equation.
Hunted is an interesting watch because of how it spins some of the tropes of the genre on their head. It’s a complex take on a simple story, and even though that doesn’t always pay off, it’s pretty chilling nevertheless.
Hunted screened as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2. An encore screening (geoblocked to Canada) occurs on August 26 at 5pm.