Unflinching in its evil, Vincent Paronnaud’s (co-director of Persepolis) Hunted is a lean and brutal take on the revenge thriller. In his first solo feature, Paronnaud boils its two main human characters down to a primal state and plants them in the wilderness for a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse. Held together by two exceptionally dizzying performances from Lucie DeBay and Arieh Worthalter, Hunted posits larger ideas while still working within the confines of its genre. Unfortunately, its confines are where it comfortably sits and only puts a slight spin on an otherwise tried-and-true formula.
Hunted is very much upfront that it’s not trying to surprise anyone with its plotting. Opening with a very obvious fable about the depravity of man, the movie wastes little time showing that wickedness. Eve (DeBay) takes a night off from her job to go to a bar and drink away her stress. That’s when she meets a man (Worthalter) who saves her from an unwelcome guy hitting on her. Unbeknownst to her, the man who saved her is actually a psychopath who records women in snuff films. When their car flips over in the middle of the woods and Eve escapes, he and his lackey, Andy (played by Ciaran O’Brien), butt heads as they try to find her to finish making their film.
Depraved right from the get-go, Paronnaud is shockingly still able to muster some empathy between its two male characters as Andy plays the reluctant sidekick, attached to Worthalter’s psychopath by-the-hip for seemingly no reason other than he doesn’t know any better. It’s the psychopath’s confidence that seems to strike Andy so strongly to keep him by his side. The two fight and make-up constantly throughout Hunted, but while one maintains sincerity, the other does what any psychopath would do: manipulate.
That manipulation and seemingly complete control over those around him is what makes Worthalter’s character so menacing. The rub is that we spend more time with him than we do Eve, so when it’s eventually her time to shine, the film breaks down to its basic dichotomy of good versus evil. There is something to be said about the unbridled wrath that Eve channels, but the movie becomes more concerned with making sure she gets revenge than fleshing out its ideas. Eve isn’t a character, she’s a cipher for the audience’s rage. Which is so passé at this point that it’s hard to find anything interesting in a movie that hangs its hat on it.
For those who just want a slick revenge thriller, Hunted does all of that well.
As a revenge thriller, Hunted works and it works well. There’s the guy you want to die, and the woman you want to win. Both leads are perfectly cast, with Worthalter absolutely reveling in his evil persona. He gets to move from cold and calculated to fumbling idiot to manipulative maniac throughout Hunted’s brisk runtime. Then there’s DeBay who starts off as our emotional foundation and then strips herself of all inhibitions. It’s a whirlwind performance that gets more and more insane as the film progresses.
Made obvious by its decision to tear down Eve’s humanity and turn her into a wild beast, Hunted lacks a stronger point to be made. It does what it does very well, but it doesn’t really come close to leaving a lasting impact. It’s most interesting dynamic is when more characters end up between the two opposing forces. A cat-and-mouse game where the collateral damage isn’t known until it happens is at least a novel enough idea that isn’t always considered in the genre.
For those who just want a slick revenge thriller, Hunted does all of that well. It spells out its plot and overarching themes in the first few minutes, but many going into the film will be searching for comfort food anyway. From that perspective, it delivers. However, for those wanting to see someone expand upon the genre as opposed to retread, it lacks ambition. A solid enough revenge film, Hunted just doesn’t seem willing to go too far outside of the genre’s framework.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 21, 2020, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia International Film Festival.