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Hunted [Video Review]

Once Upon a Time in Belgium: Paronnaud Goes into the Woods for Violent Retro-Fairytale

Vincent Paronnaud Hunted ReviewThe notion of the wolf in sheep’s clothing busts into blurred territory with Hunted, the latest offering from director Vincent Paronnaud, an effort which attempts to shake-up the familiar woman-in-peril through the lens of fairytale tropes. Revered for his co-directed efforts with Marjane Satrapi, including 2007’s animated Persepolis and their hybrid follow-up Chicken with Plums (2011), the noted French comic book writer and artist makes his first solo effort since 2009’s Villemolle 81 (under his pseudonym Winshluss).

Co-written by Lea Pernollet and rooted in unspecified Euro climes (though it was shot in Belgium), a hodge-podge of Belgian and Irish actors speaking accented English instills a sense of timelessness and disorientation, like a parallel universe where violence against women, of course, continues to be a given. Opening with a persuasively eerie prologue and finishing up on a blood-soaked turn-of-the-tables, there’s enough here to please genre fans without straying too far into any real innovative territory.

Tasked with supervising a construction site abroad, Eve (Lucie Debay) finds herself confronted with the usual sexist tirades, her boss desiring a man to replace her when she’s criticized for not being aggressive with the contractors. Choosing to blow off some steam at a local bar, leaving her cell phone in the hotel room presumably to avoid correspondence with the man she’s entangled with back home, Eve finds herself drawn to a handsome stranger (Arieh Worthalter). A make-out session in his car turns from passion to panic when the stranger’s cohort (Ciaran O’Brien) hops in the front seat and drives off. After some begging, they let her off at a desolate gas station in the middle of nowhere only to return shortly after to continue their cruel games.

A pair of primal performances allow Hunted the requisite energy for success, mostly thanks to the gonzo energy of Arieh Worthalter as the handsome stranger who, of course, makes the kind of homemade snuff films we’d expect from a Quentin Dupieux weirdo. An early sequence solidifying his insanity at a gas station also recalls the unsettling energy of Aja’s High Tension (2003), even if it never quite hits the same full throttle mix of anxiety and violence. Lucie Debay, aptly named Eve and recently of King of the Belgians (2016) roars to life in the third act once

becoming completely unhinged, which works for the pronouncedly strange setting in which a duel to the death takes place within a partially constructed suburban community complex. DP Joachim Philippe makes excellent use of the rural and suburban wastelands, and Paronnaud strikes anguish with the treatment of the ferocious woman who opens the film, a grandmother played by striking actress Simone Milsdochter.

One wishes there had been an even greater supernatural component concerning the gendered motifs of Mother Nature vs. the ruinous intentions of mankind, but Paronnaud gets the point across loud and clear with the Little Red Riding Hood retrofit (though it’s not quite as deliriously formidable as something like Matthew Bright’s cult classic Freeway, 1996).

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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