‘Hunted’ Takes Little Red Riding Hood Into the 21st Century

A still from 'Hunted'. Eve (Lucie Debay) is shown in close-up, to the left of the image. She is looking back over her shoulder. It is night, the image is lit only by blinkered street lights in the background. Eve is wearing a red raincoat, in her late 20s and has chin length platinum blonde hair and a sharp nose. She looks scared.
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Picture it: A movie where a woman runs for her life through the woods as a few maniacal men chase after her. You might be thinking of I Spit on Your Grave, The Nightingale, or Revenge, but 2020 has brought an abundance of similar titles. In that vein, Vincent Paronnaud’s Hunted is far from original, but it is certainly effective. Easily compared to Alone by John Hyams or Hunter Hunter by Shawn Linden, Paronnaud’s film takes a similar, prey-to-predator approach to the rape-revenge genre, but its strengths lie in its ability to meld the best parts of both movies in a deeply felt takedown of rape culture. 

Following Eve (Lucie Debay) as she goes to a bar and meets a charming man (Arieh Worthalter) who defends her against a prying creep, Hunted makes a clear point that “good men” should not be trusted. In fact, pretty much no men should be in Paronnaud’s world. While I’m sure Paronnaud contributed quite a lot to this subtext, co-writer Léa Pernollet deserves a great deal of credit in making the highly gendered dynamics and eerily foreboding dialogue feel abundantly true and lived-in. This is not a two-dimensional look at misogyny; it’s the real thing.

Hunted opens with a mysterious scene of a woman and her young son by a campfire that will eventually prove pivotal to Eve’s journey. Their opening dialogue sets the tone for what will become an incredibly surprising and abstracted take on Little Red Riding Hood:

“Do you hear that Johnny?” 

“Do I hear what?” 

“The song of the forest.”

“I can hear it now.”

“That’s the wolf girl who sings.”

The mother concludes her telling of the wolf girl’s myth with the line “The company of wolves is better than that of men.” Masculine sadism might seem like the film’s primary and most critical focus, but nature and its deference toward the innocent become far more central to this particular story. 

A still from 'Hunted'. The man (Arieh Worthalter) is shown in close-up, centre frame. He is in a woodland setting, his eyes wide open in fear, clutching a stanley knife with a bloodied hand. His short dark hair is matted with blood, and a cut on his eyebrow seeps into his eye.
Shudder

Paronnaud’s approach can certainly be called overstuffed or unfocused given the amount of subjects he’s addressing simultaneously: sexual violence, mythologies, the inefficacy of police, exploitation in film (Worthalter’s antagonist makes lo-fi snuff films starring all of the women he kidnaps), and how abusers play the victim in public. But all of these ideas work quite well in conversation as they are certainly related in real-life. The third act may feel like an overwhelming amalgamation of colours, senses, and places after feeling so streamlined up until that moment, but it paralleled Eve’s growth as a character––moving from a quiet victim to a howling, unabashed, and vengeful victor.

Decked out in her red hooded jacket, Eve is a Little Red for the modern era. She, like most women, girls, and feminine people in the 21st century, is no stranger to the creepy gazes or offensive catcalling of strange men. However, when faced with a Big Bad Wolf masquerading as a kind, sensitive, perhaps even feminist gentleman, she trusts him until it’s too late and his true personality emerges. He lets her go, but only for the thrill of the hunt. She is trusting in the men she meets subsequently, but they all side with him and view her retaliation as that of an aggressor or, as said frequently, “a bitch.”

Eve’s assailant’s pleasure comes not only for the violence he causes, but the fear he instills in the various women he’s done this to and the immortalising of it on film. In a low-res video of another woman he rewatches during his hunt for Eve, he’s heard saying “show your biggest, beautiful smile. Alright, now show me fear.” When she performs a coy, cartoonish version and says “I don’t know,” he slaps her. After meeting a young boy in the woods who’s on his cellphone, the man awkwardly says “What’re you doing? Watching porn, huh? It’s fine by me, man. So what? You’re watching porn, there’s no shame in that. Look, I totally understand with so many sluts around.” Later on when he’s attacked and Eve gets away from him, the first thing he says is “Fuck my camera!” His motivations are not just about causing harm or terror but building a pornographic catalogue of extreme horror. Just as Eve is a modern interpretation of Little Red, he is a Big Bad Wolf for the internet era. 

Bolstered by gorgeous, dreamlike cinematography by Joachim Philippe, immersive audio and impressively tight editing courtesy of Nicolas Sarkissian, Hunted makes for a heart-racing and thought-provoking watch that is much more than the sum of its parts. The film would certainly not be anywhere near as efficacious if not for Debay’s stunning commitment to the role or her breathtaking ability of communicating mood and tone with vivid, organic expressions and gestures. It’s an incredible showcase of her abilities as an actress, and hopefully a calling card for future roles that demand a similar level of fearlessness and ferocity. Worthalter is also impressive in his embodiment of the duality of violent men, but it’s undeniably Debay’s movie. 

Hunted will certainly not be for everyone, perhaps even most people, but it was exactly what I wanted it to be. Worthalter’s last words are more haunting than any of his character’s evil actions or devious laughter. I would spoil it if I didn’t want you to experience it freshly for yourselves, but you’ll know as soon as you hear them why it felt as profound and unique as it did. It’s rare that we see so many sides of our villain, but Paronnaud and Pernollet do not let “The guy” (as he’s called in the credits) go out as a caricature of male aggression. He is every domestic abuser, every rapist, and every cruel man who uses emotional manipulation to get out of accountability. Ultimately, the most salient message that Hunted gives us is to say fuck that, to reject the redemption narrative that we have been spoonfed by countless other movies. Not everyone is deserving of a second chance, and –– oddly enough –– fairytales, mythologies, and rape-revenge films are some of the only parables we have that make that point abundantly clear.

Hunted is available to stream exclusively on Shudder now

by Cyrus Cohen

Cyrus (they/them) is a film critic & festival programmer based in NYC who specializes in LGBTQ+ cinema, reality television, & horror. When they aren’t binge watching their latest obsession or dyeing their own hair for the umpteenth time, they can be seen screaming into the void on twitter dot com. In 2020, they founded a publication called The Gay Gaze that spotlights queer and trans media through the lens of queer and trans writers.

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