Most horror lives and dies with a great villain. This can come in two main forms; the charismatic, iconic villain you grow to love and maybe even root for like Freddy, Jason and the rest of the horror Mount Rushmore, or the truly despicable kind that you just want to see get their (preferably violent) comeuppance. In Vincent Paronaud’s Hunted, a modern re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood as a survival/revenge horror tale, the villain is so repellent, aggressively misogynistic, and just an irredeemable shit that the movie is actually better for it.
Eve (Lucie Debay) is in town to manage a construction project. We’re immediately shown that she is a woman in a world dominated by men, and even as she displays her authority over one set of these men onsite, she’s berated by her own (also male) superiors for not being tough enough. Justifiably frustrated, Eve leaves her phone, which is blowing up with her bosses’ texts, and goes out for a much-needed drink.
Eve is immediately set upon by a particularly aggressive pick-up artist at the bar, and is seemingly ‘rescued’ by another. The two hit it off and go back to his car, when things abruptly switch and the man (Arieh Warthalter) and his “brother” (Ciaran O’Brien) attempt a kidnapping. Eve is able to escape, but a pursuit ensues that takes Eve and her would-be assailants deep into the woods. She’s doggedly trailed by the pair of seemingly-unstoppable, aggressively hateful and depraved men, who have made a hobby of kidnapping and filming young women before committing all manner of despicable acts.
If you come into Hunted with expectations of director Vincent Paronnaud from his Oscar-winning animated film Persepolis (based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel about growing up as a Muslim in America), you can probably discard all of those. The two films could not possibly be more different – in tone, execution, subject matter and themes. Though Hunted seems like an all-too-real story about predatory men, the magical realism aspect persists and adds an interesting layer to an already compelling cat-and-mouse format. Hunted starts out as a campfire tale about a woman and a big bad wolf, after all, and that framing resurfaces in unexpected ways as Hunted’s story unravels. Hallucinatory visions cloud both Eve and her attackers, and downright otherworldly forces are also at work here as nature itself seems to come to Eve’s aid more than once. Director of Photography Joachim Phillipe uses the colours red and blue as punctuative pops to give the film, whose subject matter would usually lend itself to something more muted, almost an animated feel at times.
The slight problem I have with such a well-drawn and legitimately scary villain like Paronnaud creates in Hunted, who is made even scarier in that he’s an abstraction that is never even identified by name and simply “The Foreman”, is that it forces Eve into the background. Eve isn’t given a ton of development (in comparison to The Foreman and even his meek sidekick) until towards the end of the film, when there’s a pretty dramatic perspective shift. On the flip side, we learn almost too much about the complete psychopath that pursues her. We’re privy to his decidedly simplistic and undoubtedly primal motivations, his weaknesses, and we even get glimpses of his fear. I think this does serve a purpose, in that it emphasizes that Eve has to tap into a similar vein of primal wildness in order to survive. Either way, it’s a pretty minor criticism since these two opposing forces really feel like they’re on equal footing by the end, culminating in an all-time great battle that, like the rest of the film, feels both natural and supernatural at once.
While Vincent Paronnaud’s Hunted is a departure, in all ways, from his prior project Persepolis, it pulls a reinterpreted version of that film’s magic into the horror genre and gleefully upends expectations along the way. Hunted is a fascinating example of a film that never goes right when it can go left, and barely ever makes the predictable move, resulting in one of Shudder’s first truly remarkable releases of 2021.
Vincent Paronnaud’s Hunted will be released on Shudder on January 14, 2021