How do you hook an audience with your film? Sometimes you can just drop the audience right into the thick of it where you have no choice but to get lost in the action. You can build mystery for them, so they are compelled to find out what is going on. But sometimes you just need an old fashion exposition dump to get the audience ready for what is to come. Imagine…a campfire…a mother and son…a tale of nature standing up against man against an innocent woman…all done with creative animation. What a way to start things off? That is what you get when you sit down to watch Hunted.
But where does Hunted go with the themes and motifs set up by our opening tale? Dark places…that’s where. Writer/director Vincent Paronnaud sets this stage to give us context for an unnerving tale of the hunted (queue title). A woman (played with incredible ferocity by Lucie Debay) going to destress at a bar is picked up by a seemingly charming man and his brother…but things take a turn. This man (a devilishly charming yet so unnerving performance from Arieh Worthalter) turns out to be a horrifying presence with all the worst intentions. Queue our thrilling chase of man after woman (but supported by nature). Things only get scarier and weirder from there.
Paronnaud commits to an eerie and unnerving atmosphere with his direction but does he deliver the scares? He accomplishes that easily. Whether he utilizes the background to hint at what is to come or utilizing subtly (at least early on) to build tension. Some bloody footprints that allude to what just happened can go a long way to insight fear. As the film goes on, Paronnaud starts to lose the subtlety and this is where the film begins to slide. What starts off as a great exercise in tension soon falls into stereotypical violence and gore that borders on mean spirited. Are there still thrills from start to finish? Yes…but it does lose some of the effectiveness as it goes on. The film also falters from just keep going on. Similar to Don’t Breathe, the ending just never…well, ends.
Even if it does lose some of its energy and nuance, do other aspects help elevate the film? They certainly do! The two leads provide compelling performances that are impactful in many ways. Debay starts as a strong and determined woman who is soon forced to devolve to her most animalistic nature. Debay’s character becomes a force of nature that is intense and powerful in the defense of herself. Worthalter is unnerving and crazed in his over-the-top performance that borders on too much but it sure makes things interesting. Another important facet of the film is the symbolism and themes. The opening story comes full circle as nature does indeed come to support our heroine (a black dog, a wild boar, a bird). This promise and delivery of those ideas was refreshing and made the film even more interesting.
In the end, does Hunted deliver a worthwhile thrill ride? Yes, the film does go too far at times (both in its content and in terms of the narrative it portrays). But this refreshing film delivers on everything it promises in an impactful way. The expert craft of Paronnaud and the strong performances of the leads really tie it together. Head on over to your favorite VOD destination and treat yourself to a crazy ride.