With a nod to the “Little Red Riding” Hood fairy tale, Vincent Paronnaud’s Hunted is a slick and intense revenge fantasy film.
Every woman wants to be taken seriously. And in movies, as in real life, it’s hard to work around some of the professional pitfalls set by centuries of patriarchal traditions. So this is where we meet Eve (Lucie Debay), who is working in the male-dominated field of construction. Her male boss indicates that she’s too nice in her business dealings, and if she doesn’t work up to his expectation, he’ll send her male colleague to finish her job.
Unsettled by the pressure, red-jacket-clad Eve ignores calls from her significant other and goes to a bar for a drink and some dancing. A casual flirtation goes incredibly awry, and Eve finds herself held captive by two men from the bar, nameless characters called The Handsome (Arieh Worthalter) and The Accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien).
Worthalter’s character is highly amoral. He claims at one point in the film to be a documentary filmmaker, although flashbacks and the character’s own movie footage point to him making snuff films — ostensibly the reason the two men have kidnapped Eve. His complete lack of disregard for others, even his Accomplice, is chilling. He uses gaslighting, fear, and violence to get what he wants from people, something that may hit too close to home for some viewers. His outright misogyny spurs his violence and is a weapon in its own right.
But as easy as it would be to paint The Handsome as The Big Bad Wolf, that’s not a true parallel. The wolves, and the forest as a whole, are sympathetic to Eve’s plight, mirroring the animated campfire tale told at the beginning of the film.
And no shrinking violet herself, Eve digs deep within herself for survival on multiple fronts: the forest and the elements, as well as escaping The Handsome and The Accomplice. Her survival gives way to self-defense, and eventually to rage and revenge. This is where the film throws a curveball. Rather than wait for authorities — although none among the few people Eve encounters try to help or at least call for help — Eve decides to take matters into her own hands, for herself, and for any women who have already crossed paths with The Handsome and his accomplices (O’Brien’s character seemed to be one in a string of Accomplices, which is not surprising.) Her descent into an almost feral state of anger is riveting. Eve lashes out at the misogynistic Handsome, perhaps as a proxy for the microaggressions she — and so many other women — endures on a daily basis. This isn’t to say The Handsome doesn’t deserve what he gets in the end, however.
Filmed on location in the hauntingly beautiful woods of Wallonia in Belgium, the film is very well made. The score and sound effects (or occasional lack thereof) intensify the suspense, and the pacing of the film is good. An hour-and-a-half go by very quickly when you’re on the edge of your seat.
There is both on-screen and implied violence, and several instances of unsettling gore, but all of it adds to the understanding of characters and movement of the plot.
If the animation at the beginning of the film feels familiar, perhaps you’ve made the connection that Peronnaud is also the director of the 2007 film Persepolis with graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007, and which received multiple award nominations, including for an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
Hunted is available now on Shudder.