Little Red Riding Hood meets #MeToo: “Persepolis” director Vincent Paronnaud creates misleading images in United Kingdom HUNTED – FOREST DYING titled film is a thriller that plays with conventions of the revenge genre. We will reveal in our review whether this was successful.
OT: Hunted (BEL/FR/IE 2020)
At first, Eve (Lucie Debay) is annoyed by the strange man (Arieh Worthalter) who approaches her at the counter. Ultimately, she allows herself to be ensnared – and shortly afterwards she is smooching him in the back seat of his car. Then another guy gets in (Ciaran O’Brien) and drives away without comment. Eve tries to free herself from this predicament. But neither is luck on their side, nor do the two men, who are already wallowing in fantasies of raping the young woman together, let up. Blood has to be shed before Eve has the chance to escape. Or to retaliate…
Probably only the heads at the USA distributor behind the new film by director and author Vincent Paronnaud (“Persepolis”, “Chicken with Plums”) know why it comes onto the market in this country as “Hunted – Forest Dying”. The USA-language subtitle attached to the original title tends to evoke associations with cautionary eco-documentaries or (in the more creative case) with doom-and-gloom sci-fi films about a dark future without the earth’s green lungs. Very few people would probably be able to put together the fact that “forest dying” simply means that there is a forest in this film and that the same word is intended to place the expectation of dying characters. Well, there is at least one good thing about the USA film title of this Belgian-French-Irish co-production: Abstruse scenarios have arisen in our minds about how social film evenings are completely derailed because this 87-minute film was selected and inserted solely because of its title, which promises eco-information . But enough of the ramblings: What do Vincent Paronnaud and screenwriter Léa Pernollet have to add to Revenge cinema?
Cameraman Joachim Philippe takes care of impressive images (“Slow West”).
At the beginning of the film, Paronnaud lets his past in the animated film shine through: The film opens with a campfire story that introduces the motif of hunting and the central theme of dangerous men – in a look similar to silhouette animation. As a result, “Hunted” falters indecisively between subtly suggested magical realism (flora and fauna always seem to side with Eve) and a realism that is heightened compared to everyday rape and revenge films. Paronnaud and Pernollet do not make their protagonist a powerful, tactically sophisticated avenger, but rather make her constantly struggle: During her escape from the kidnappers, Eve repeatedly meets men who are completely incapable of understanding the situation. A thoroughly frightened Eve is interpreted as her kidnapper’s bitchy lover, a security man intervenes in a physical altercation and intuitively helps his opposite sex, and so on. Furthermore, Eve repeatedly makes small strategic mistakes or jumps to conclusions that lead her into deeper distress, and in direct physical combat she is clearly outmatched. She has to use almost all of her strength to keep the larger, heavier, trained man at bay.
“At the beginning of the film, Paronnaud lets his past in the animated film shine through: The film opens with a campfire story that introduces the motif of hunting and the central theme of dangerous men – in a look similar to paper cut animation.”
Seen scene by scene, this creates tension thanks to Lucie Debay’s physically strong performance and the solid, variedly staged skirmishes, hand-to-hand fights and fights between Eve and the perpetrators. And Paronnaud knows how to amusingly dissolve this tension at dramaturgically effective intervals through small moments of violent catharsis, when a spike in violence comes out of nowhere and the perpetrators are inflicted with intense, enjoyable suffering. But as an overall package, “Hunted” comes together significantly less than, for example, Coralie Fargeat’s “Revenge” or the “young, rowdy girl hunts neo-Nazis” fun “Becky” by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott. In “Revenge”, thanks to a clear directorial vision, Fargeat combines a highly stylized imagery and individual, pointed iconographic moments, with a sequence of action phases that is also plausible for rape and revenge cinema – sometimes there is wandering around in circles for minutes or there is a chase to the chase because those involved are exhausted (and don’t want to slip on blood-stained ground). Murnion and Milott, on the other hand, cleverly weave a narrative arc in “Becky” that allows us to switch from dramatic moments to phases of suspense in which fear for Becky prevails and painful peaks of violence to midnight cinema jubilant brutality. And back and forth again.
There is hunting in the forest. Not just animals…
“Hunted – Forest Death”, on the other hand, does not manage to reconcile its individual set pieces so convincingly. The “mystical light” element seems completely removed from the rest of the film for a long time, briefly finds its way back through a few minor characters, and then disappears again without enriching the whole thing. Eve’s Little Red Riding Hood outfit seems slightly fake. The depressingly realistic indifference, ignorance or sometimes even complicity of male supporting characters, which gives “Hunted” a certain degree of significance behind the pure suspense element, is outweighed by the main villain, who resembles a caricature-esque image of a pure exploitation representative Rape and revenge cinemas. Example: Arieh Worthalter’s character is such an extreme embodiment of toxic masculinity that he believes a boy is gay because he’s just playing games on his cell phone instead of watching porn on it. In itself, this is so maliciously humorous that it could work in a satirical film or a sillier, sillier film – but in “Hunted – Forest Death” the villain’s exaggerated sayings and actions (and often staged and acted for a punch line) are a rip-off repeatedly ripping holes in the suspense-seriousness of the whole thing. And “Hunted” is also a bit indecisive in other ways: This is not a rape-and-revenge thriller, but rather an attempted-rape-and-revenge thriller, but at the same time the filmmakers lose their sight of a more progressive way of telling the material, by slipping away from their heroine’s perspective several times and staying too focused on the perpetrators for a long time. In this way they weaken Eve’s narrative emphasis.
“So this is not a rape-and-revenge thriller, but an attempted-rape-and-revenge thriller, but at the same time the filmmakers lose their sight of a more progressive way of telling the material by slipping away from their heroine’s perspective several times and for stay too focused on the perpetrators for a long time.”
Regardless, there is a satisfying final third both in terms of staging and narrative, which comes to a head with its changes of scenery, an increasingly furious Lucie Debay and good injury make-up.
Conclusion: “Hunted – Forest Death” is a half-baked, yet respectable representative of the revenge thriller subgenre that knows how to create tension despite its indecision.
“Hunted – Forest Death” will be available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD from May 21st.