Fantasia Festival Review: Hunted

Year: 2020
Runtime: 86 Minutes
Director/Writer: Vincent Paronnaud, Lea Pernollet
Stars: Lucie Debay, Arieh Worthalter, Ciaran O’Brien

By Harris Dang

“Hunted” (2020) stars Lucie Debay as Eve, a building contractor who is struggling under the pressures of work. The project is closing in to its impending deadline soon and the stress is starting to kick in for Eve and none of her male colleagues are of any help to her. Seeking any sort of cathartic release, she goes to a nightclub for drinks. She meets the acquaintance of a handsome man (Arieh Worthalter) and they begin to mingle after he stops a drunkard from laying his hands on Eve. The two take their dalliance to the man’s car but things take a dark turn as his accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien) takes the wheel and the two kidnap Eve. After several attempts of escape, Eve finally succeeds and she runs off to the woods. With the two men right on her tail, she will have to rely on her wits and her resilience that she will be able to succeed from her captors. But little do the three know, there is something quite peculiar about those woods that might be a little bit of a game-changer.
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“Hunted” (previously known as “Cosmogony”) is the latest film from french filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud (aka Winshluss), who is best known for his projects in comic books as well as his co-directing projects with acclaimed director Marjane Satrapi on films like the whimsical tale “Chicken with Plums” (2011) and the Academy Award-nominated animated flick “Persepolis” (2007). While he is by no means a stranger to the horror genre (thanks to his offbeat horror comedy “Villemolle 81” [2009]), those who know Paronnaud’s work should expect something different from work on a film like “Hunted”.
“Hunted” is a fantastic survival horror flick. With a well-worn premise, the film manages to excite, provoke and entertain in wonderfully weird ways.”
For one, “Hunted” features a prologue involving a mother telling her son a campfire story about the history of the woods and how a man had seen a vision and it had inspired him to do God’s bidding, in which he takes the entire village with him to go on his quest; which leads to the village turning on a woman for sustenance with the woods overlooking the reprehensible act. It is this very prologue that not only hints that the film is going to provide something out of the ordinary in terms of the survival horror genre but it also provides plenty of leeway for Paronnaud to add his style to the proceedings. And on those notes, “Hunted” succeeds brilliantly. HUNTED_GRADED_STILL_4 Paronnaud and his screenwriter Lea Pernollet manage to subvert genre expectations and add their own creative touches to enliven the boilerplate plot. Firstly, the forest setting (which is beautifully realized by Caocao.be and Laios Hendrickx) is a character in of itself as it subtly evens the odds of the cat-and-mouse game. Some examples involve an animal or two would enter in some of the conflicts and plants would provide sustenance like berries for Eve to eat. It recalls to mind the mysterious occurrences in Colin Eggleston‘s Australian thriller “Long Weekend” (1978) or Neil Jordan‘s fairy tale werewolf flick “The Company of Wolves” (1984). Secondly, Paronnaud’s directorial eye alongside the contributions from cinematographer Joachim Philippe and costume designer Catherine Marchand create a visually vibrant look that supports and amplifies the off-kilter flourishes in the storytelling. The use of the colour red is obviously referring to the European fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”, and yet Paronnaud makes the use of colour so blatant, he turns it into a joke i.e. a petrol station owner character is so fascinated by the customs of China (and how it could take over the world), he spouts out Confucian remarks that it shrewdly becomes clever foreshadowing.
“Paronnaud and his screenwriter Lea Pernollet manage to subvert genre expectations and add their own creative touches to enliven the boilerplate plot.”
One of the most outrageous moments in the film involving the use of colour is in the climactic third act. It not only informs the character’s state of mind in that sequence but it also becomes the weirdest reference to Jean-Luc Godard‘s “Pierrot Le Fou” (1965) since Shane Black‘s “The Nice Guys” (2016).

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Thirdly, the film is surprisingly humourous (in a gallows sense) given the subject matter. But when it is shown alongside the striking style and free-wheeling storytelling, it adds a sense of unpredictability to the film that it becomes exhilarating. A few darkly humourous moments involve a survivalist that calls to mind the third-act “cop” sequence in Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury‘s slasher flick “Inside” and another involving both an obsessive stare and a graphic slit (that looks decidedly yonic) that calls to mind the graphic details in Coralie Fargeat‘s “Revenge”.
“Worthalter capably brings both menace and pantomime glee to the antagonist role, making him easy to hate but fun to watch.”
Lastly, the characterisations in the film are overstated that it almost becomes cartoonish, but the cast manage to deliver on Paronnaud’s sardonic humour as well steer the shifts in tone between dramatic and absurdist remarkably well. Debay is great as Eve as she brings conviction to both the dramatic aspects as well as the unhinged aspects of the character. Worthalter capably brings both menace and pantomime glee to the antagonist role, making him easy to hate but fun to watch but there are odd character touches that make the role quite intriguing like his fascination on filmmaking or his homoerotic overtones towards his partner that makes his character memorable. Last but not least, O’Brien is amusing as the pushover accomplice who clearly has the tape over his eyes when questioning his loyalty for his partner. But there is no questioning that “Hunted” is a fantastic survival horror flick. With a well-worn premise, the film manages to excite, provoke and entertain in wonderfully weird ways and it is thanks to Paronnaud’s vision and his three committed leads. Highly recommended.

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4 stars

“Hunted” will be having its World Premiere at Fantasia Film Festival from 20th August to 2nd September. FT20-PressRelease-horiz-EN-F2

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