Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Raw, immediate and unrelenting, Hunted is a film designed to speak directly to the wild part within each one of us." | Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival

Eve (Lucie Debay) is a stranger in town. She's there to supervise a construction site and she's being bullied by her boss for not being aggressive enough with the contractors. He would like to send a man in to take care of it. Tired, she goes for a drink in a local bar to get a bit of time to herself. There she meets a man (Arieh Worthalter) who seems to understand her frustration. He's funny and charming. It's only after they leave, after she gets into a car with him and the man he claimed was his brother, that the mood changes. Before she knows it, she's fighting for her life.

This may not be an unusual scenario in cinema. It's something that many women have to consider on a frequent basis in day to day life. If you think you've seen it all before, though, Vincent Paronnaud's thriller will make you think again. The key is in the prologue, in which an old woman tells a child a story about the spirit of the forest and how it protects the innocent. Echoes of this story run throughout what follows, imbuing a magical realist quality at odds with the brutal cynicism of the main story. We also get, eventually, some insights into what led the man from the bar to become so abusive (and not just towards Eve), with an unexpected last-minute utterance suggesting that it was never really other people that he most wanted to destroy. This disrupts any simple narrative about men as predators and women as prey, which is further complicated by the reticence of the man's companion, who quickly comes to seem more out of his depth than Eve is.

Made in Belgium with French and Flemish-speaking characters communicating in English, Hunted has a cosmopolitan quality which seems like the epitomé of modernity, but in the thick of the trees it takes on a different aspect. This is Jung's primal forest, accessible anywhere, familiar territory to Canadian viewers watching the film at Fantasia 2020 where it intersects nicely with another such tale, Michael Venus' Sleep (both feature brief but important appearances by wild boar). It's a landscape with which we are all familiar from childhood stories, and one which features prominently in the horror genre. The rules are different here. Civilised qualities can only get one so far. Intuition becomes more important than reason, instinct more useful than observation. "Imagine that you were a girl all alone in the forest and you knew you were going to die soon," the man conjectures, trying to get into the mindset of the hunted - but his description doesn't fit Eve at all.

Raw, immediate and unrelenting, Hunted is a film designed to speak directly to the wild part within each one of us. Its characters are smart and make use of tactical thinking, but Paronnaud draws heavily on imagery handed down to us from Antiquity. A slight shift of light and angle can turn a mere boy into a character from Classical myth. Eve takes on an increasingly Dianic aspect. Though there's nothing here that depends on the supernatural, the inference is heavy, perhaps reflecting the man's increasing uncertainty in the long light and shadows and mist. As Eve discovers a strange kind of freedom, he is increasingly trapped by his own compulsions, playing a very dangerous game indeed.

Hunted is beautifully shot and not averse to being playful at the right moments. It's a tightly constructed film in which everything feels chaotic and yet nothing has been left to chance. There are no wolves anymore, not in this forest, but Paronnaud invites us to remember them.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2020
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Hunted packshot
A woman who trusted the wrong man must use all her resources to survive - but the forest is on her side.
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Director: Vincent Paronnaud

Writer: Vincent Paronnaud, Léa Pernollet

Starring: Lucie Debay, Arieh Worthalter, Ciaran O'Brien

Year: 2020

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Belgium, France

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