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How much do you want to be cornered by a vindictive energy vampire who talks and talks about how they’re the real victim? That’s most of what it’s like to watch “Night of the Hunted,” a remake in name only of French pervert poet Jean Rollin’s softcore pre-AIDS panic lament against institutionalized/governmental neglect. This new “Night of the Hunted” is actually a remake of “Night of the Rat,” a 2015 Spanish horror movie about a work carpool gone horribly awry.
As in that slightly earlier movie, “Night of the Hunted” takes place in a roadside gas station, where a sniper traps, shoots at, and endlessly lectures an unsuspecting woman who’s having an affair with her driving companion. This sort of giddily unpleasant provocation soon loses appeal once it becomes clear that every other visitor to the gas station is a clay pigeon for the sniper, and every new opportunity to escape the gas station is yet another false start.
“Night of the Hunted” steeps viewers in tail-chasing circuitous logic and asks us to relate to a trapped, desperate lady cipher who may or may not be reaping what she’s sowing. An ambiguous ending, lifted from “Night of the Rat,” leaves viewers to decide for themselves, but there’s only so much worth engaging with beyond the filmmakers’ reflex-testing nastiness.
Who really wants to mull over both-sides victimhood in such a target-poor environment? We don’t learn much about the generically resourceful survivor Alice (Camille Rowe) before she gets trapped by a whiny gunman (Stasa Stanic). Alice receives too many texts from her clingy, concerned boyfriend, Erik (Aleksandar Popovic), but she still texts back that she wants to make things work with him, too. This might come as a surprise since Alice’s fair-skinned partner’s vulnerability is contrasted, both in his texts and in a brief video-chat phone conversation, with Alice’s stoic traveling companion, John (Jeremy Scippio).
It seems weirdly important for us to know that John is Black, as we’re reminded by the punchy lyrics and subwoofer-testing rap music he plays in his car. John is driving Alice to a fertility clinic, but they never arrive. Also, there’s a hole in John’s gas tank, presumably made by the shooter, who knows some things about Alice. She’s exasperated but kind to her pathetic, clueless boyfriend but snaps at John. And then the shooting starts.
Not much else gets started once John’s been disposed of and Alice has been shot into a huddle at the back of the gas station. Handheld and/or visually oversaturated photography gives viewers the impression that we are uncomfortably close to Alice as she scrambles to help herself escape with whatever she can find on hand, including a mop, a cell phone, a walkie-talkie, etc. Nothing and nobody helps Alice, though, of course, so the siege drags on.
To keep things interesting and/or irritating, depending on your taste for edgelord button-mashing, the shooter constantly taunts and complains to Alice. Using a walkie-talkie that, for some reason, never gets turned off, the sniper judges her for making assumptions about him based on his misanthropic statements and actions.
Alice’s captor also points out that she works as a publicist for a pharmaceutical company, which is apparently worse than being a literal murderer. He can’t resist suggesting that Alice doesn’t need to sleep her way to a promotion nowadays: all she has to do is accuse somebody or bring up their sordid pasts, including old college blackface photos.
The shooter is obviously not meant to be taken at his word, but the filmmakers want us to take him seriously enough whenever he asks Alice if she’s wrong to assume that she knows everything about him. Who’s to say he’s not making it all up? Did he just blow your mind, people?
Well, no. Khalfoun’s tendency to pander to and then punish genre fans resembles the grisly, sensory-overloading New French Extremity horror movies of the mid-00s, like “High Tension,” which was directed by “Night of the Hunter” producer Alexandre Aja. Aja’s influence shows throughout “Night of the Hunted,” especially in how it, like many post-Cinema du Look French movies, claims an eye-roll-inducing solidarity with young women while also subjecting them to a litany of abuses. How original, a genre-savvy horror movie that shows how sophistry-spewing men routinely corner women and weaponize their own grievances while trapping and clobbering us with endless and knowingly empty sophistry.
“Night of the Hunted” might have been a productively grim exercise if it didn’t feel like Alice’s dilemma wasn’t just a pretext for more ostensibly shocking talking points. It’s not, but you still might enjoy yourself if you’re eager to watch a symbolically vague killer torment yet another sobbing but resilient woman-shaped thought experiment.
On Shudder now.
Camille Rowe as Alice
Aleksandar Popovic as Erik
J. John Bieler as Doug
Jeremy Scippio as John
Brian Breiter as Bob
Monaia Abdelrahim as Cindy
Isaiah Reyes as Eddie
Brenda Nunez as Amelia
Stasa Stanic as Sniper
Abbe Andersen as Eleanor