As the live-action, English-language, and solo directorial debut for French filmmaker and comic artist Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis), it's unsurprising that Hunted is, from the very opening moments, an atmospheric and visually-appealing film. Sadly, the storyline – referred to as a modern and radical take on the Little Red Riding Hood fable – doesn't live up to the imagery on display.
The character of Eve (Lucie Debay) wears a red hoodie, which is very much on the nose, and the eventual villain, known only as ‘The Handsome Guy’ (Arieh Worthalter) is appropriately shaggy and louche. There's even a grandmother in whose clothing the wolfish villain can wear. It's far too clever by half, but the particulars are so eye-rolling in their absurdity that the film feels less like a fairytale and far more like a parody of extreme entertainment.
At its heart, Hunted is essentially a cross between Joel Schumacher's 1999 snuff investigation 8mm and bits and bobs of every revenge thriller, but most notably, I Spit on Your Grave. Much is made of the wilderness setting in which much of the film takes place, and it's well-utilised, but the concept at the heart of the film – set out in the opening scene of a grandmother telling the tale of a young woman who ran with wolves – of supernatural powers utilised against those who would attempt to take advantage of women is only half there.
The other half of the film sees the brutal Handsome Guy and his accomplice treading the path of every sleazy predator with camera from here to Henry Lee Lucas. It's scenery chewing at its best, and blatantly exploitative at worst, especially when grainy video is used to give this pair some backstory. By the time the redemptive conclusion comes about, it's all been a brutal slog that can't seem to make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a mystical tale of revenge or a grittily nasty sleazefest. Were that it to choose one path and lean in, Hunted could've been something special or interesting. As it is, it's just a well-lensed mess.
Where to watch: Shudder from January 14th