It’s amazing how many fairy tales are concerned with women’s bodies in peril...
...Almost all the most famous ones center around placing a woman or a girl in a situation from which she must be saved. Only through modernized adaptations do we ordinarily get to see them save themselves. Writer/director Vincent Paronnaud’s Hunted, written with Léa Pernollet, tries its hand at turning one of the most predatory tales—“Red Riding Hood”—into a rape-revenge horror, and what results is visually affecting but ultimately a bit of a mixed bag.
The basic premise of rape-revenge stories is fairly self-explanatory. A victim has an encounter from which they must escape and an aggressor they must fight off. The most fulfilling stories of this kind, for me, are those that end with the aggressor getting their comeuppance at the hands of the survivor we have grown to know and feel for. It’s the ultimate power fantasy, for better or worse. Hunted sets the proper wheels in motion but sets them spinning just left of the right direction.
Eve (Lucie Debay), our red-clad heroine, needs a night out on the town after a series of draining and frustrating encounters between her job and her significant other. So, she sets out for the club, leaving her phone behind, and meets a man who saves her from a rather predatory member at the bar. They hit it off, but, unfortunately, the man she thought was kind is anything but. What follows is a fight for her life that spans from the roadside to the woods and back again. While the plot, at its most basic level, is standard, the addition of the frame story of the “she-wolf who sings” adds a fresh angle. Unfortunately, Eve herself isn’t developed much at all as a character. We don’t know anything in-depth about her, even when her life is in peril. Her work and home life struggles are hinted at through phone conversations in our introduction to her. Her attacker, on the other hand, we know much more about. He’s the dominating force as soon as she sees him from across the club. Even in moments where we feel like we might finally be getting an opportunity to connect with her, the film cuts to him and his graphic hobby of filming assault and murder.
It’s an unusual choice, having a film of this type more focused on the irredeemable party rather than humanizing the victim. I’ll admit I was so enraptured with the visuals of the forest and Eve’s fighting style that I didn’t initially realize the full impact of this imbalance. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t bother with letting the rape into the story. We are shown, through the man’s video camera, the kinds of things he is capable of making other people do, but the film doesn’t force us to watch it in real time, instead giving Eve the space to defend herself and stop it before it happens.
It also presents us with perhaps the truest-to-life kind of aggressor: a man so painfully insecure he snaps at the slightest provocation and demands physical affection as penance.
My favorite element—and the one that plays strongest into the fairy tale adaptation vein—is the film’s choice to set the woods and all its inhabitants up as one giant protective force. When you bring in the frame story of the “she-wolf who sings” at the film’s opening, it could almost be read as a “women protecting women” scenario a la What Lies Beneath.
There’s plenty about Hunted to love, and plenty to take with a grain of salt. It is, in many ways, an arresting film. Joachim Phillippe’s cinematography lures you into the woods beautifully and Lucie Debay’s performance as Eve is a force. The film’s message is a relatively sound one—we cannot erase or bury trauma with words—but its execution, while effective, is a bit half-baked. I enjoyed the film immensely, but after the initial thrill wore off, I sensed the bit of injustice that was still being done to Eve. Whether she was meant to be an everywoman or not, we are made of more than the traumas we fight against.
Hunted comes exclusively to Shudder on January 14th.
By Katelyn Nelson