Written by Kim Morrison
From both the trailer and the campfire story which serves as an opener to the movie, I went into Hunted (2020) with high expectations of a mythical, forest-driven hunt and chase film with a strong female lead and a supporting cast of woodland animals that Snow White would be envious of. While it soon became clear that the trailer had perhaps amped the importance of the forest and those woodland animals a little bit more than was needed, Hunted still offers us an interesting look at the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and how the dangers of being women never really change.
The film opens with a mother and her son gathered around a campfire, discussing the song of the forest. The mother tells the story of the Wolf Girl, a young woman who was about to be murdered and eaten by the leader of an army. Her tears and pureness woke the forest and sent a giant wolf to her aid, who ate her enemies while they screamed she was a witch. “The company of wolves is better than that of man,” the mother says, and oftentimes, I couldn’t agree more.
We’re then introduced to Eve, who is visiting a construction site in Belgium to oversee a project for work. Her boss is accusing her of not being forceful enough with the construction staff and insinuating he needs to send a man in to get the job done, while her partner is constantly phoning and texting her about a new apartment. Understandably under some pressure, and looking for a release, Eve heads to a nearby bar for a drink. She is immediately approached by a total creep, who won’t take no for an answer. In swoops, the Handsome Guy, who gets rid of the creep, has a drink with Eve and ends up dancing with her. Handsome Guy is there with his ‘brother’, who he claims is looking a little sad because his girlfriend just died, and so he sits in the corner all night as Eve and the Handsome Guy grow closer.
After an outdoor cigarette break, the two end up kissing in the back of a car, and Eve finally seems able to relax when the Handsome Guy’s ‘brother’ (actually the Accomplice) appears and drives the car away from the bar. While Eve manages to get out of the car, and into the safety of a petrol station, the pair come back for her, and this time she ends up bound in the boot of their car as they drive through the Belgian forest. Luckily for Eve, a rogue pig causes the car to crash, and she’s able to make her escape while the men are incapacitated.
The rest of the movie is a standard hunt and chase affair, as Eve tries to make her escape through the forest, while the men try to kill her before she can reach help or the police. And here’s where I felt slightly let down by the premise which the trailer laid out for me, even if we do get a watered-down version of what I was expecting.
Saying that, pretty much from the moment they enter the forest, Eve seems to embrace her surroundings better than the men. She hides herself under the leaves so she can sleep in relative safety, she drinks the rainwater and eats berries when she can, the animals seem at peace with her, and she’s willing to throw herself into the river to escape her captors. When Eve’s at a particular breaking point, she screams into the forest, which seems to awaken something in the trees around her. This is where I was expecting a full-on animal invasion coming to Eve’s rescue, and while there’s a hint of it with a mild crow attack, it never really comes to the fruition that the trailer suggests, which I was quite disappointed about.
Hunted also makes some interesting observations about the state of the porn industry and the ways men consume and view women and sex. Handsome Guy seems to kidnap, rape, and murder women to order and film them. Whether this is for his own pleasure or he makes money of them isn’t clear, but he views them enough times himself throughout the course of the film and even refers to his camera as his “baby”. The Accomplice implies this is his first time participating, and we see other men in balaclavas on Handsome Guy’s videos, showing that this is something Handsome Guy does regularly with different men. His car boot also has the phone of another woman in it, showing he’s gotten away with this before.
When Handsome Guy comes across the son from the opening scene, he immediately starts questioning him about porn and offering to show him his videos which are more “real”. It’s chilling to think that he could be making money off these videos, either by uploading them to sites with viewers not realising they’re actually real, which has been a massive problem on sites like Pornhub, or by selling them as actual snuff tapes to the charming customer base he finds his accomplices in. There’s also a scene later on where Handsome Guy tries to stage Eve’s rape so he can film it, describing a scene that sounds as if it came straight from a bad porn movie. This shows how easily some can blur the lines between fantasy and reality, which can be especially dangerous when it comes to porn.
Overall, Hunted is an interesting look at the dangers that women face in everyday life. It shows that even when we place ourselves in consensual sexual situations, we don’t always know who we are getting involved with. Handsome Guy seems like the white knight in the bar scene because he’s not as outwardly sleazy as the other guy. However, that’s because Handsome Guy knows he has to win Eve’s trust and be seen leaving the bar with her in a friendly manner if his plan is going to work. The level of cold calculation that goes into his plan with Eve, and surely many women before her, is incredibly chilling and feels like something that could easily happen in real life.
While the forest scenes with Eve weren’t the horror version of The Animals of Farthing Wood I was hoping for, it was still an interesting idea. For once in a horror movie, the woods are not a scary place just because they look creepy. Eve is quite at ease in the woods, and is rightfully only afraid of the men stalking her rather than adding in additional fears like the dark or the scary animals that could be lurking. It shows that the traditional fears that horror pushes on us aren’t always the most scary thing, and in fact, that nice guy who just offered to buy you a drink could actually be far more terrifying.
This time, the wolves aren’t dressed up like Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma. Instead, they are dressed as upstanding male citizens, who are able to convince gas station attendants and security guards that they aren’t up to anything bad, and place the suspicion on Eve instead. However, unlike the girl in the opening story, Eve doesn’t need a giant wolf to rescue her. Instead, she finds the strength inside herself to turn the tables on her attacker and start chasing him instead.
While Hunted seemed like it had an interesting concept, it definitely suffers as it pulls in towards the end, and becomes particularly dull when the action leaves the woods. I wish it had leaned into the mythos of the woods and the slightly magical feel that the trailer had a little more to help it stand out from the crowd. Instead, it feels like a weaker version of better movies like Revenge (2017) and isn’t one I would hurry back to watch again.
Rating: 2 out of 5