Review by Cole Groth
Are you a fan of overbearing political commentary and violent cat-and-mouse thrillers? Great! You might enjoy Night of the Hunted. If you hate being preached to and like characters that feel complex, you definitely won’t. Adapted from 2015’s Spanish horror-thriller La Noche del Ratón, this Franck Khalfoun-directed flick tells the story of a bumbling woman forced to survive the night in a gas station while a deranged MAGA shooter threatens her life.
Alice (Camille Rowe) is a social media manager for a pharmaceutical company. After being called for an early-morning meeting with her colleague, she and her friend, John (Jeremy Scippio), stop at a gas station for a routine gas fill-up. However, a sinister killer traps her inside and holds her hostage with a sniper rifle. While the night unfolds, she’s forced to listen to his incessant babbling as she pieces together why this man wants her dead. The sniper has an agenda to push, and he won’t stop until Alice is dead, either from his constant talking or a real bullet.
There’s a good saying in screenwriting: less is more. The easiest problem is that the antagonist doesn’t shut up for the whole movie. Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth is an incredible example of why this movie doesn’t work. Schumacher’s film has an intriguing protagonist whose motivations are directly personal. Here, the killer has no apparent motive for his actions. After killing his wife, he holds Alice hostage because he’s a right-winger. He chastises her for being a liberal, and… that’s pretty much it. Full of eye-rolling dialogue about how working for a pharma company makes her a killer, or whatever political commentary the guy has to spew, this film will have you begging for silence. There are moments where Alice being swiftly executed would’ve been the best option because at least the story would be over.
There are two separate elements to this movie. The first is the awful emotional stuff. The conversation over the radio between Alice and the killer is frustrating. Beyond the annoying enemy, Alice is a very bland character. It’s ultimately unclear why she was chosen as the protagonist because the writers clearly don’t understand how to write a fully fleshed-out character. The second — the survival-thriller stuff — is much better, fortunately. There’s lots of intense violence and good deaths for horror fans. Many personality-less victims get brutally killed, keeping the kill count high and the emotions detached. It’s fascinating to see how Khalfoun uses the single location to its fullest because he makes a gas station feel like a truly great place for a horror movie to take place. At only 90 minutes, the pacing is also pretty great. Various victims move in and out of the film as things slow down, meaning there’s always enough action to keep the story flowing.
Fortunately, Camille Rowe is excellent. She perfectly plays her role as the somewhat pathetic, but ultimately strong protagonist. She’s given enough meaty dialogue to show off her acting chops. Going forward, I’d love for her to be in movies that aren’t as insufferable as this because she’s a very good horror lead and shows strong dramatic ability, too. The sociopathic killer, played by Stasa Stanic, is acceptable. Yeah, his dialogue is awful, but he’s at least decently freaky enough to listen to, as the script demands.
Night of the Hunted pushes through a frustrating storyline to an ending that, unfortunately, sucks. Outside of a few technical things and the general tone, there’s not much rewarding about watching this. Alice’s story is annoying to listen to, and it’s uncommon to find an antagonist so frustrating to hear. Writers Glen Freyer and director Khalfoun clearly have some political agenda to put forward. In our politicized era, it’s okay to include commentary like that, but it’s hilariously annoying and unrealistic here.
Night of the Hunted streams on Shudder starting October 20.