It’s probably to horror’s general discredit that ‘rape revenge’ is considered a legit subgenre, but it is, and it’s one that’s mature enough to have ‘classics’, among them Straw Dogs (1971), Last House On The Left (1972) and I Spit On Your Grave (1978). It has also recently enjoyed a resurgence – and a much needed refresh – thanks to the perspective of female directors such as Coralie Fargeat, whose Revenge (2017) was a sun-baked, ayahuasca-fuelled game of cat and mouse that quickly flipped the script on the victim’s pursuers.
Hunted, like Revenge an original production for high-quality horror network Shudder, follows the same playbook, albeit very clumsily. We’re introduced to Eve (Lucie Debay), a woman travelling on business, and a man (Arieh Worthalter) who charms her at a bar, but plans on driving her and his friend out to the forest, where the men will abuse and kill her. When they’re run off the road in an accident, Eve escapes and gives chase. The ensuing back-and-forth insists the viewer ponders the true subject of the title with the subtlety of a harried English Lit teacher.
With a trippy, shroomy style that borrows heavily from recent Nicolas Cage movies Mandy and Color Out Of Space, Hunted is a film infuriatingly obsessed with the cleverness of its own symbolism, in which nature foreshadows the events on screen and folkloric tropes are brought into the present day. Each key scene features the presence of wild animals, whose characteristics represent the intent or behaviour of one of the three leads, and the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood serves as the story’s backbone – there’s even a grandma figure offering sanctuary deep in the forest.
What made Revenge so good was its focus on protagonist Jen, whose travails gave her near-superhuman powers, and whose survival and revenge we were keenly invested in. Here, director Vincent Paronnaud is too interested in his wolf character, Worthalter, whose personality flip-flops between malign and maniacal. Debay, by comparison, is given little to work with: Eve is a closed book at the beginning and a feral animal at the end.
A Belgian-French-Irish production voiced in English, even the setting is bizarre: Irish accents and European accents and quasi-American accents mingle at the bar, and the forest is recognisable as nowhere that would account for that mix, with its roaming population of tortoises, leaf beetles, wolves, warthogs and deer.
Paronnaud, who co-directed the excellent animation Persepolis, is clearly a talent, but here he applies his impressive cinematic skills to a story and script – both his own, so no excuses there – that are so thin, predictable and played out that they can’t support the layers of film school nonsense he’s piled on top. He’s attempted to make a fart into a symphony – and ended up with a stinker. Tip for directors: if you’re for some reason compelled to add to the rape revenge subgenre, do make sure you have something to say on the subject first.
- Director: Vincent Paronnaud
- Starring: Christian Bronchart, Lucie Debay, Ciaran O’Brien
- Release date: January 14 (Shudder)