Fantasia 2020 Review: HUNTED, Taunt Horror Thriller Goes For Broke, And Succeeds!
If you go down in the woods today you're sure of a big surprise - Anne Murray
Eve has had a rough day trying to meet the demands of her overbearing bosses. To blow off some steam she heads to a local bar and meets what she thinks is a charming guy. But when has any woman met a truly charming guy at a bar? Sure enough it turns out that this man is all shades of a psychopath who kidnaps women then films them. With his meek accomplice they grab Eve and take her out to the woods to make their next home movie.
Hunted begins with a story, told by a mother to her son, around a campfire at night, when tales like this are best told. It is a story about the woods they’re camping in. It is a story, perhaps a fairy tale, about how a young woman is helped by the woods to escape the wrath of a foul priest. It serves as a precursor of what is to come though there’s nothing mythical or magical about this in Hunted, the forest simply provides for her in its own quiet way.
Hunted is the new horror film from French filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud and is a long ways away from a film like his 2007 Oscar nominated animated film, Persepolis. Hunted starts out as a lean, taunt horror thriller, before turning completely batshit crazy as it heads into its climax, making for a fully frightening and entertaining package.
Hunted is a film that first gets your teeth grinding for one very good reason. Even in a regular year we would still be hard pressed to find a more disturbing and true-to-form psychopath than the one portrayed here by Belgian actor Arieh Worthalter. Holy shit, is this character evil to the core. Simply known in the credits as The Foreman he is a liar, he’s manipulative, he’s intimidating, he roars with silence, operating without empathy and remorse. This character is the real, evil deal.
What’s worse is that Worthalter bears a striking resemblance to actors like Jason Isaacs or Bradley Cooper. While Isaacs has played his share of villains Cooper has not so it's deeply disturbing to watch someone this evil and think, “Why is Mr. Cooper being such an dick?” Hunted shouldn’t belong to the villain, it should belong to Eve and her survival. But Worthalter is so damned good here, and Eve doesn’t really bloom until the end, you’re forgiven if you get caught up by his character. That’s what psychopaths do.
For the most part we do not see a lot of violence on screen, there is not much else apart from inferred bloodshed. This is not at all a bad thing as most violent acts play out in our mind’s eye. We do not get the act but we definitely get the outcome and that is horrific enough here.
A couple of times Paronnaud sneaks something in around in the background, giving the audience a heads up that things are going to go very bad for Eve. Counter to all this quiet rage is the serene and hauntingly beautiful scenery captured by Paronnaud and his cinematographer Joachim Philippe. With just enough realization of the woods as a character in this film it is right of them to capture it with such a mysterious air; this is not your typical backdrop to a menacing horror thriller.
Then, as we near the climax of Hunted, and you're about done gripping the arms of your seat under such menace, Paronnaud takes his foot off the brake and his movie takes off like a fucking rocket. We’re gasping for breath now, barrelling towards its deadly conclusion at breakneck speed. It gets wondrously bonkers and crazy, injecting truly unexpected new environments and characters, as Eve begins to fight back. It is not evening jarring in any sense, but much to our delight. Not that we needed it from a persistently quiet and menacing story to this point in the story, but it’s so out of left field and so surprising that you grab for the non-existent crash bar in front of you and brace for impact. It is a complete shift of pace and tone as the woman with nothing left to lose fights back, hard.
Dramatic shifts in pace and tone in most films won’t work but here we need release from the grip of Worthalter’s villainous run. We may not have needed it, already sucked in by the mental games, fear and anguish that he creates, but we welcome it because it is just so crazy that it works. Hunted works very well.