What to Watch Verdict
'Hunted' may be stylish, but its subversions of rape-revenge lessen the heavier Vincent Paronnaud's hand becomes when emboldening frayed ends of narrative sanity that mount with imaginative messiness.
🐗 Arieh Worthalter revels in despicableness.
🐗 Lucie Debay brings unmatched energy to her character's snap.
🐗 The Mother Goose vibes are unique and, at times, effective.
🐗 Attentiveness to throughlines is lax.
🐗 An overload in terms of what's shown.
🐗 Style over substance, the latter which is missed.
In Hunted, said hunt bases itself around folkloric rape-revenge rooted in weaponized wildlife and inhumane pornography videographers. It's womanhood robbed, masculinity tainted, and sexual abuse of the most outright disgust jammed into an LSD capsule that bursts midway. Director and co-writer Vincent Paronnaud is enraged by the systemic treatment of women preyed upon by "nice guys," and that frustration is apparent. Little Red Riding Hood gets a bloodied-and-blue splattered makeover, but Paronnaud's monstrous manifestation is weakened by scattershot narrative disregard. It's somewhere between the taser resurrection and paintball skirmish where Paronnaud loses control, all in the name of wily gender retribution.
Businesswoman Eve (Lucie Debay) seeks relaxation in a nightclub mojito after a rather stressful day on-site. She's approached and won over by a handsome man (played by Arieh Worthalter), who coaxes her outside for a backseat makeout session. His accomplice (Ciaran O'Brien) interrupts the smooching by hopping into the driver's seat and steering towards woodland isolation. Eve protests but eventually finds herself bound-and-gagged by misogynists who record their violent brand of erotic homestyle entertainment in secret. That's when chance intervenes and a boar juts in front of the speeding automobile, releasing Eve when the car overturns. Unfortunately, she's seen her kidnappers' faces; thus, the titular cat-and-mouse is afoot.
Storytelling begins as any wolf-in-sheep's-clothing tale. Promising Young Woman. Revenge. Like the rest, Hunted presents smooth-talking, mannerly males with calming smiles who lure in unsuspecting female targets then brandish their fangs. Their vocabulary changes from "sweetheart" to "bitches” and "sluts” like their Girls Gone Wild senses take control since Paronnaud desires to overtly degrade Eve until your skin is crawling onto another skeletal figure. What's less appreciated is how Paronnaud doesn't respect his audience enough to loathe "Handsome" and "Accomplice" without using snuff rape footage intercut between another breathless escape. As if Handsome's merciless betrayals and victimization behaviors aren't telling enough? The heavy-handedness of Hunted becomes distracting as plotlines loosen like fishing wire on a busted reel.
A majority of screen time frantically glances over Eve's shoulder as the skittish fleer tries to keep perverts eating dust. Paronnaud aims to sustain Eve's marathon, which becomes a problematic task starting with executing a black convenience store clerk who's learning Chinese (the film is obsessed with odds-and-ends details). Then Eve's guardian animals start flocking to her rescue without excessive reason beyond the film's foreshadowing anecdote about bodyguard wolves. Then Eve interrupts a paintball match that continues right on through. Then there's a cornfield chase and more mad libs continuation tactics. Continuity blurs together like a hazy, half-baked combination of The Poughkeepsie Tapes and I Spit On Your Grave, and then Eve unhinges with Braveheart on the mind. How else could directors color their protagonists' infuriated expression than with a pellet propelled by a carbon cartridge burst?
Granted, I supposed that'd detract from the wicked fairytale whimsy of Hunted. The script's rules revolve only around keeping both Handsome and Eve alive whilst survivalist sons inflict bow-and-arrow wounds only to vanish from relevance, or toads are upchucked like some Burning Man psychedelic aside. Lucie Debay is permitted a banshee's scream of exasperation come the film's third act, as she selects a large bludgeoning branch and turns the tides on Arieh Worthalter's vile smut psychopath. Cries of "I can change" or "I'll seek help" are drowned out by the cumulative disgust of all those forgotten footage girls who refuse to believe the serpent's speech. Paronnaud's fixation on empowering Eve's defensive break highlights the woman's decision to stop running (no help coming). Yet, it's also Looney Tunes development that's an overall thematic disservice to a jumble of character interactions that only serve momentary beats and nary cohesion.
Hunted distills outrage and indignity felt by every failed Little Red Riding Hood into a synthetic strain of comeuppance with a woodland nymph twist. Vincent Paronnaud pits Mother Nature against an abhorrent monster of humanity, the toxic predatory villain, and unleashes the hounds (so to speak). It's hypnotic-slash-dizzyingly abstract and grindhouse adjacent in moments, but overall ambitions rarely assess Eve's struggle as a sequential project. Some filmmakers avoid disaster because their style impresses that thoroughly, but throughout Hunted, a lacking awareness makes for a relatively shallow expression of appropriate furiosity. Repulsive lyricism without structure, passionate in stance, but ultimately an experience of unruly moods that runs itself in bewildering circles.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.