Famous fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” lends itself well to horror, as most do, thanks to its meek girl traveling alone in the woods while being hunted by the Big Bad Wolf. Since its 10th century origins, the story’s retellings and many adaptations meant dramatic shifts in its interpretations. In the genre space, the Big Bad Wolf most commonly translates to a werewolf. But as the campfire set opening states, “The company of wolves is better than that of man.” Meaning that Hunted uses the lore of its fairy tale to unfurl a modern cautionary tale that aims to turn the tide on the hunter.
Once upon a time, Eve (Lucie Debay) opts to blow off steam from an on-location job and a pesky boss with a night out at a bar. A creep soon approaches her, but her cautiousness and an assist from a kind stranger allow her to side-step any real trouble. Instead, she bonds with her white knight and leaves with him. The potential hookup goes sour when the handsome man (Arieh Worthalter) drops the charm to reveal his sociopathic nature. His timid accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien) proves just as eager to join the planned depravity. A series of harrowing events build to a freak car accident that ejects Eve from the vehicle’s trunk and into the woods for a relentless cat-and-mouse game between Eve and her tormentors.
Unlike her folk tale counterpart, Eve isn’t a naïve young woman. She’s successful, though perhaps beleaguered, career-wise. She’s consistently cautious where it counts. Sure, she made the misstep of falling prey to the Handsome Man, but he hid all his warning flags behind the charm and social cues that deemed him as safe. Eve’s quick reaction upon learning the truth works in her favor, even when she’s outmatched and outnumbered. All of this is important to her impressive survival instinct but necessary to engendering rooting interest in a lean survival thriller that wastes zero time cutting straight to the chase. That includes any character development.
Director Vincent Paronnaud, who co-wrote the script with Léa Pernollet and David H. Pickering, embeds folkloric mysticism deep within an intense fight for survival. The longer Eve’s battle to live rages on, the more it seems that nature intervenes when necessary and coaches her into harnessing primal power and fury. Hunted doesn’t dwell much on this aspect of Eve’s journey, instead focusing on a propulsive thriller that doesn’t stop tossing obstacles in Eve’s way in the form of brutal violence.
The modern update to “Little Red Riding Hood,” right down to Eve’s red winter jacket, is a clever one, but it doesn’t offer anything new thematically. Debay delivers a fantastic performance as an everyday woman pushed past the brink into a feral predator, and Worthalter is effectively unnerving as the ruthless creep. Paronnaud brings a lyrical style grounded by violence and grisly imagery, but we’ve seen this type of story many times before. The expected third act doesn’t quite meet the same intensity level as the first two-thirds, though the leads give it their all. In the end, Hunted offers an exhilarating survival thriller full of gorgeous fairy tale flourishes without adding to the conversation. The ferocity of its messaging doesn’t match that of its heroine. Still, it does elicit some shock and awe nonetheless.
Hunted is now streaming on Shudder.