Tribeca’s Midnight section, if you attended the festival virtually, only consisted of two films this year. Fortunately, both Gabriel Bier Gislason’s Attachment and Travis Stevens A Wounded Fawn are two of my favourite horror movies I’ve seen in 2022, which includes Ti West’s X, Radio Silence’s Scream, David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, and Alex Garland’s Men. And of course, Mimi Cave’s Fresh, which shares some themes with A Wounded Fawn. Travis Stevens film plays a bit like Fresh by way of Peter Strickland at first, but it quickly becomes it’s own deliciously deranged thing.
As in Fresh, this is a story of how the aw-shucks nice guy can and often does turn on a dime to become your worst nightmare. But A Wounded Fawn takes this about ten steps further by steeping its story in undiluted Greek mythology and art. Even though it’s definitely set in the present day, cellphones, emojis, and all, Stevens uses a 70’s aesthetic in much the same way the Strickland does, with conspicuous film grain, unsubtle pops of red (an important colour to the story, in more ways than one), and practical effects when it comes time for blood to be spilled.
Josh Ruben’s twisted Bruce is centered in the film, experiencing the torment of the Furies and a number of otherworldly forces. It’s not an easy role to take on, having to tap into a manic derangement on a dime, but Ruben is more than up to the task. The film opens on Bruce attending an auction for a bronze sculpture called Wrath of the Erinys. It’s a depiction of three goddesses – Alecto, the Unceasing Anger, Megaera, The Grudging, and Tisiphone, a punisher of murderers – known collectively as the Furies, torturing a man. Bruce listens intently to the auctioneer describe the three bringers of justice, blissfully unaware that he’s about to meet them very intimately.
Bruce, see, is a serial killer. He’s plagued by images of a large, red, owl-woman that commands him to kill women of beauty. He uses a unique weapon, kind of like a reverse set of brass knuckles, which he uses to slit his victims’ throats as he embraces them. His disarming personality gets him through the door, but when the owl shows it’s face, all towering and garish, he slips into a kind of fugue and is compelled to kill the woman he finds before him. First, it’s an art dealer named Kate (Malin Barr), from whom he steals Wrath of the Erinys. Next, he lures museum curator Merideth (Sarah Lind) to an isolated cabin.
Meredith, to her credit, isn’t naive enough to miss some horror movie red flags early on – weird noises, a setting far out of her comfort zone, and Bruce’s jarring changes in demeanour. A Wounded Fawn weaponizes politeness in a gendered context for a while, but Merideth eventually decides to call it quits. But you know how that story ends.
Or do you? Because no narrative decision beyond that point feels expected or unearned. Extending right through the closing credits, it’s one of the wildest, funniest, and most beautiful last thirty minutes of a movie I’ve seen in some time. It’s full of a stunning amount of visionary practical effects, and fully lives up to its premise of a film that’s largely about art and mythology, while retaining the bones and presentation of a classic slasher even as it upends many of those expectations.
A Wounded Fawn is one of my favourite horror surprises of 2022 so far. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to either rewind it and watch it back immediately, or discuss it with a close friend, or both. It’s the growth of a filmmaker that I already liked into one I’m in awe of. And like all great filmmakers, Stevens has provided a platform for two of my favourite performances in 2022 with Ruben and Lind’s portrayals of Bruce and Merideth. Reimagining a premise that should be conventional (for horror) or even cliché, Travis Stevens has created one of the most uniquely frightening movies of the year in A Wounded Fawn. Anchored by two outstanding performances and bolstered by a twisted vision of art and beauty, it’s one of the biggest surprises of the year.
A Wounded Fawn is written and directed by Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor, Jakob’s Wife). Shudder will release the film in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand in late 2022.