Fairy tales have been a part of our cultural makeup for countless generations. Each story being passed down helps to relay important messages to children through magically crafted means. These stories are both brutal, yet stay rooted within the depths of our minds, capturing our imagination while reminding us of sometimes cruel societal truths. One such fairy tale is the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. This tale has been re-told again and again, with each storyteller bringing something new to the story we’re all familiar with. We now get to see the tale reimagined once more in Vincent Paronnaud’s HUNTED, with mixed results.
Tentative career woman, Eve (Lucie Debay), decides to go to a bar one night by herself. An unnamed man (Arieh Worthalter) intervenes when a pushy drunk man tries to force Eve to accept a drink. Flirtations arise between the two and it’s not long before she gets into a car with the stranger. Unfortunately, things go south fast when it is revealed that this man and his friend (Ciaran O’Brien) have sinister plans for her. Things between the three escalate before Eve finds herself on the run in a neighboring forest. What starts off as a story of survival quickly turns into a story of revenge as Eve begins to take matters into her own hands against the men who pursue her.
There are familiar beats in HUNTED that are fun little Easter eggs for fans of Little Red Riding Hood. The pursuit in the forest, Eve in a red coat, the wolfish sociopath, the Grandmother that both Eve and the “wolf” will meet. These details provide the outline for an adrenalin-pumping reimagining from Paronnaud and co-writer Léa Pernollet. Of note is that these bare-bones details appear to be used more as a guiding point rather than something that informs the reader ahead of time what to expect. This in itself makes it a delightfully surprising watch for this reviewer. Especially with how well the pacing of the story is executed.
However, while the story itself feels exciting in its execution, the last fifteen minutes or so of HUNTED veers left. Parranoud’s heavy-lean into the abstract in the final act of the film may put off viewers. For this reviewer, what should come across as a message of sweet revenge gets lost. This comes down to the overall execution of those final 15 minutes, which is a disappointment for a film that had been leading up to a powerful climax.
While the story itself gets lost towards the end with the abstract approach Paronnaud takes, there is so much good to take in, from the cinematography to the stellar acting that really brings everything together. There are moments onscreen that provide the viewer with a chance to catch their breath and take in the scene of the forest. The forest is a character in its own right in this regard. Joachim Philippe‘s usage of dark, gritty color in HUNTED highlights the danger in the forest, with Eve’s bright red coat visually serving as a focal point. As the story transitions from reality to more abstract, colors become brighter and paints a fever-dream picture for the viewer.
While visuals provide heavy lifting in HUNTED, the acting from Lucie Debay and Arieh Worthalter provide the glue that keeps the viewer watching. While her lines are minimal once Eve reaches the forest, Lucie Debay captures Eve’s emotional and psychological journey seamlessly with her face. As she goes from quiet career woman to vengeful wildling, Debay easily brings the viewer in her handling of the role. Playing opposite of her is Arieh Worthalter as the “wolfish” handsome man and – boy – does he really play into the sociopathic nature of the role. He easily conveys a man that none of us would want to meet in a dark alley. By the time Eve has fully embraced the need to avenge herself, it becomes an easy decision to cheer her on because of how truly reprehensible Worthalter plays his villain.
There are many elements that work in favor of HUNTED. The cinematography, the performances conveyed by the cast, and the overall story melds together to create an elevated take on a familiar fairy tale. While the traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood was initially told to warn children away from talking to strangers, the message has been updated in HUNTED and, due in part to the ending Paronnaud and Pernollet have constructed for us, there is room for interpretation. While the final act is more miss than hit, this film makes a solid argument about the strength and relevance of fairy tales and how there’s always something new to explore when we revisit them.
HUNTED will arrive exclusively on Shudder tomorrow, January 14th.