There have been many retellings of the story of Little Red Riding Hood across history and across multiple forms of media. There are books, poems, plays, and movies that all play on the central idea of a young girl getting lost in the woods and falling for the charms of a dangerous wolf whilst on the way to visit her Grandmother. It is a tale that lends itself quite easily to a tale about the predatory nature of men, trying to take advantage of and corrupt young women, and that is very much the aspect of the tale that takes the focus of this modern-day spin.
The film follows Evie (Lucie Debay), a young woman travelling for work, who is doing her best to ignore the breakdown of her relationship with her boyfriend. She heads out one night to have a drink and take her mind off things when she meets a charming stranger (Arieh Worthalter), who she figures will be fun to be with for one night of distraction. What starts as a flirtatious encounter, however, very quickly takes a turn for the sinister when this man reveals himself to be a murderous pervert, who is keen to make Evie the next focus of one of his DIY snuff films.
What takes place is a prolonged chase through a dark wood on the outskirts of town, as the roles of the hunter and the hunted slowly but surely begin to switch. It is this switch from Evie being the target to her being driven to the point where she’s not going to be pursued anymore that the film is both at its most interesting and at its most frustrating. When we meet Evie, she is a woman focusing on her work and ignoring calls from her estranged boyfriend, clearly in need of an escape and a release. It doesn’t offer much more beyond superficial details about her and her life before the film takes the strange and dark turn as the handsome stranger played by Worthalter traps her and chases her through a woodland.
The chase itself struggles to be all that exciting, despite some striking moments of imagery that do well to craft some grisly moments of practical gore. But the momentum and beats of the chase often halt and stop and become distracted, choosing to focus more on the handsome stranger and his bumbling accomplice (Ciaran O’Brien) than it does the red-coated Evie, as they aggressively pursue her. Our red riding hooded Evie gets lost and almost forgotten about in her own story, as she very much ends up turning into a rage-filled victim who has simply had enough (and quite rightly so), but that progression is never felt much deeper than the surface level the film presents. That loss of character and personality robs Evie of a genuine sense of catharsis, with the explosion of rage never feeling particularly earned despite Debay and Worthalter’s committed turns.
The film is perhaps more successful at demonstrating the toxic and entitled behaviour of men when it comes to the way they treat women. There are many moments where the male characters feel like they deserve something from Evie simply because of superficial acts of kindness. There is particularly a strong moment near the end that speaks to male privilege as Worthalter’s character is so self-absorbed that he thinks that just saying sorry for what he has done should be enough to absolve him of all the pain and trauma he has caused. It makes for some keen observations on the kind of gaslighting behaviour exhibited by men either in relationships or trying to chat up a girl one night at a bar. One can only hope most of them don’t then go on to pursue them with murderous intent in a dark wood.
French director and artist Vincent Paronnaud, whose previous credits include the animated graphic novel adaptation Persepolis, does demonstrate a strong visual identity that one would associate with one half of the directing duo that crafted that excellent adaptation. There’s a strong use of colour in moments that allow the visual identity of the film to impress at certain points. But there’s little much in the way of genuine suspense in a chase that struggles to craft tension and develop its characters in substantial ways. There is very little in the way of three-dimensional character development, meaning that the catharsis that the film should be delivering ends up diluted, leading to an experience that does very little with its modern re-telling of Little Red.
Dir: Vincent Paronnaud
Scr: Vincent Paronnaud, Léa Pernollet
DOP: Joachim Philippe
Music: Olivier Bernet
Country: Belgium/France/United Kingdom
Runtime: 87 minutes
Hunted is now available to stream on Shudder.