Fantasia Review: Hunted

A French woman working in Belgium decides to blow off some steam at a bar. She meets a charming man and decides to leave the bar with him. Yet things quickly take a turn when she realizes this man is a psychopath and he has an accomplice. She will have to fight to escape the fate these men have planned for her.

French director Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis, Chicken With Plums) brings his latest film, Hunted, to Fantasia International Film Festival audiences. Co-written by Paronnaud and Léa Pernollet, the latter making her feature-film debut, Hunted tells the story of Eve. She is stressed from working on a big project, so she goes to a bar for a few drinks to unwind. She meets a man who seems to be a knight in shining armor, but quickly turns into the villain of the story. This man and his accomplice plan on doing unspeakable things to Eve. She manages to escape into the forest, leading to a long fight for survival in a fairly standard cat-and-mouse game. What makes Hunted unique is how it comes across as a reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood. Eve is Red, even wearing a bright red raincoat as she flees the two evil men. The men, who at first seem to be the helpful huntsmen, are actually the big bad wolves in disguise. Instead of being ominous and dangerous, the forest and the animals inside it act as Eve’s protectors. It creates a fun spin on a familiar story that draws audiences into the story.

As a way to both add humor and more dynamic suspenseful moments, the heroine and the villain encounter some other people. In the second half of the film, there are multiple encounters with other people or even groups of people. Often times this adds to the tension and horror of the film, but sometimes the encounters end in confusion. Some of the people clearly see the dangerous dynamic happening between Eve and this man, but half the time they don’t seem to be phased and go about their day. It makes me wonder why even include those encounters if there is no direct interaction between the main characters and these people.

Hunted has a number of great performances, but the three leads definitely stand out. Lucie Debay (Melody, The Confession) stars as Eve. Eve is a flawed person, but none of that matters when she is thrown into this dangerous situation. Debay’s portrayal of Eve really shines when she decides to shift from her flight to her fight response, when her performances goes to an extreme place that still works well in the film. Arieh Worthalter (Girl, The Take) plays the “handsome man.” At first, this man seems very charming and chivalrous. Then, it’s as if a flip switches in his brain and the man becomes a dangerous predator. When that shift happens, Worthalter delivers a great performance that is both disturbing and humorous. And finally we have Ciaran O’Brien (Ripper Street, Pursuit) as “the accomplice.” What I love about this character and O’Brien’s performance is that he makes the character so pathetic that you almost feel sorry for him, but then you remember that he is also trying to murder Eve. Together, this trio manages to both thrill audiences and make them laugh out loud.

Many of the visual elements of Hunted help to create a strange, fairy-tale type look to the film. The film opens with a story about a wolf girl in the forest using some absolutely gorgeous animations and light/silhouette work. It tells an interesting story while providing a visual aid to draw the viewers in. From there, a majority of the film takes place in the forest. The lush green as a background of Eve’s vibrant red coat not only adds to the fairy tale look, but it also makes sure that our eye is constantly drawn to Eve. Beautiful cinematography also enhances the allure of each scene and further helps to draw the eye. Then of course there are the practical effects. There are a handful of startlingly violent moments with brilliant and realistic practical effects. Everything creates a bizarrely magnificent balance between realist horrors and a dreamy aesthetic.

Hunted is an intense thrill ride that brings a bit of fairy tale dreaminess to the shocking horrors awaiting the protagonist. Paronnaud and Pernollet combined their abilities to create a story that is a different take on a familiar tale. Debay is a true delight to watch as Eve and both Worthalter and O’Brien make memorable villains that strike a balance between sinister and funny. Hunted is as gorgeous as it is suspenseful, making it a memorable film among the many great films at Fantasia International Film Festival.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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