Hunted is a woodland survival horror written and directed by Vincent Paronnaud, co-director of the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated animated film Persepolis.
Ève (Lucie Debay) is out for the night, taking a break from her boyfriend and, conveniently, leaving her phone at home. She meets a man known only as The Guy (Arieh Worthalter), who along with his partner known only as The Accomplice (Ciarán O’Brien), kidnap and stow Eve in the boot of their car. En route to their destination they become involved in a bizarre car crash, leading to Eve’s escape and a pursuit through the dark and unforgiving forest.
Right off the bat, Hunted is in trouble with an opening sequence that is tonally off balance. A mother and son sit around a campfire telling a ghost story which segues into a striking animated sequence, which is then not mentioned or referenced ever again. It is so strange and jarringly at odds with the rest of the movie that it feels like part of a different film.
Sadly, things do not get any better, because try as it might, Hunted can’t hide its derivative ideas and tepid execution. It’s not seedy enough to gain exploitation credibility nor inventive enough to ‘elevate’ it. John Hyams’ 2020 nail-biter Alone (my review of that one HERE) trod similar ground, but to a much loftier effect, while in 1990 Blood Games threw an entire baseball team into the forest survival mix. Meanwhile, the Wrong Turn franchise has been churning out variations on the theme for the better part of a decade. Hunted just does not bring anything new to the table.
The main ingredient for a survival horror movie like this is a strong villain to drive the pursuit. But instead of a memorable monster, Hunted has a pair of weakly brewed, and rather forgettable bad guys, who irritate rather than terrify. Motivation does not extend beyond baseline psycho killer behaviour and there’s a frustrating cognitive dissonance for plot logic. The killers pursue Eve because she has seen their faces, yet they have no qualms at all about being seen on a gas station security camera or by the innumerable witnesses in a crowded nightclub.
Lucie Debay turns in a commendable performance as Eve, particularly at the beginning. But then the script abandons her half way through. There’s no turning point to Eve’s story. No real catalyst for change in her arc. For half the movie she is terrified and then, suddenly, she is angry.
On the plus side, the bloody effects work is well done, when required, and the killers’ camcorder footage has a grim, nasty vibe about it. Although it still feels like somewhat of a lift from Vacancy or The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
Beyond that, I’m disappointed to report there is not much more to recommend. Hunted has been mooted as a modern take on the Red Riding Hood story, but there’s precious little evidence to back that up, beyond Eve wearing a red coat and the loose fairytale vibe of the introduction. Instead, Hunted is simply an uninspired rural horror that can’t survive its own mediocre ideas and paint-by-numbers approach.
‘Hunted’ is now streaming on Shudder.