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Hunted (2020)
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by Jay Seaver

"A lot more fun than the typical bit of red-riding-hood horror."
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Most moviegoers don't see that many movies like "Hunted", but if you go to genre festivals or spend a lot of time digging through your favorite streaming services to find the new selections, it gets categorized: Survival horror, nature, woman on the run, etc. What makes one of those stand out? A couple good performances. Some visual style. And a willingness to go kind of crazy at the point where the audience might be expecting the filmmakers to coast.

It starts in familiar-enough fashion - a fairy tale allusion, a woman frustrated at work who goes out to a bar to blow off some steam, and a guy who initially seems nice enough but shows his true colors quickly. Soon enough Eve (Lucie Debay) is stuffed in a trunk, but able to flee her kidnappers (Arieh Worthalter & Ciaran O'Brien) thanks to a freak accident. They are never that far behind, though the woods are full of surprises.

Writer/director Vincent Paronnaud is likely best-known internationally as Marjane Satrapi's collaborator on the film version of Persepolis, and he's spent much of the rest of his career in comics and animation, so it's not exactly a surprise when the bit before the opening title includes a nifty bit of animation that is nevertheless well-enough matched to the rest of the movie that it doesn't feel like it doesn't belong. It's quickly contrasted with a moment or two of grainy-video shot in less than great lighting, and that's a bit of a preview of what's going to happen throughout the movie: Every time Eve is able to put a little bit of distance between herself and her pursuers, the forest scene takes on a bit of a fairy-tale quality, albeit as much Grimm as Disney, while there's a flatness to the guys' scenes, maybe a slight washing-out, like they're living in the violent constructed fantasy meant to be captured on camera.

The violent nature of that means Lucie Debay is going to be spending a lot of the movie running, being afraid, and looking more worn-down as things go on, which could be fairly thankless, but she never gives a half-effort, especially considering that Paronnaud and co-writer Léa Pernollet have her start from a place of having a chip on her shoulder from people wanting the impossible at work rather than having her ever be surprised that any man can be like this. It is fun to see her suddenly redirect all of that into rage when she gets her hands on a nice, solid stick to swing, though, and I also want to compliment the hairstylists who give her a cut that lets her catch the camera's eye in early scenes, tagging her as confident and savvy, but degrades exceptionally well over the course of the film.

Opposite her, Arieh Worthalter seems to be having a lot more fun, doing a great turn from gallant to downright nasty without it being a showy mask-drop, and then happily chewing the scenery for the rest of the film because his guy (credited as just "The Guy") is just completely unhinged. For much of the film, he's given Ciaran O'Brien as a sidekick to abuse, and while his part is less showy, he does a good job of playing the put-upon beta without ever becoming more than nominally sympathetic. His job is to give Worthalter's guy an audience to perform to and otherwise remind the audience about this man's need to dominate even when Eve is far off, but it's a pairing that works.

It plays into a tiny scene that demonstrates how Paronnaud is bringing a little something extra in terms of skill to this bit of VOD fodder, as Worthalter opens a candy bar and casually chucks the wrapper into a nearby stream. The camera tracks it a bit until it passes Eve, and in that moment the audience gets a little more on edge, because the way that shot works establishes that she is moving toward her would-be rapists, rather than away. But it also seems calculated to anger even a jaded viewer who has watched hundreds of these chases, because the guy is freakin' littering. It's silly, but the different form of callousness of it works. There's another bit later when the filmmakers start messing around with things happening out of order, and it feels fair because there's a bit of a warning in it, and it also makes a natural lead-in to how crazy the last act will get.

Which is impressive, because for all that stuff like that candy wrapper was making the film feel fairly tight, the homestretch has at least three crazy things that come out of nowhere and send the chase off in a new direction, often in such an absurd way as to elicit a cackle or a delighted "what!?" It's an impressively go-for-broke set of bits that works because Paronnaud hasn't entirely forgotten what got him there in terms of style or essentially being Eve fighting the guy in an uncertain environment. He's willing to pick up and drop those bits of randomness fast enough that the film doesn't get overloaded on the way to maybe, sort of, coming full circle, and while it really shouldn't work - films which drop what had been a good tense thing for an hour to do something else entirely with the finale are usually misfires - but does.

Though made in Belgium with a broadly European cast, it's shot in English, likely because the producers knew that would be good for sales to the streaming services where this will inevitably find long-term homes. I am rather looking forward to the waves of tweets that will come from people stumbling upon it, expecting a generic 85-minute time-waster, and instead getting something where the filmmakers put in the effort to make something memorable and entertaining from start to end.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33668&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/22/20 13:23:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Nightstream Virtual Film Festival For more in the 2020 Nightstream Virtual Film Festival series, click here.

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