I love such evocative movie titles. We’ve had The Night of the Hunter, and now here comes Night of the Hunted. They are not related in any way, though. Just the title reminded me of that great noir classic. Night of the Hunted is a ‘situation movie,’ as described by Quentin Tarantino on a reel I saw the other day. “Speed,” he said, is an example of a situation movie done to perfection, but there’s no story there, he added. Night of the Hunted is as situational as they come. The characters are stuck in a place, and so are we, and the whole concept is based on a whimsical plot that entertains for just a bit and then fizzles out faster than a helium balloon. Did this film have potential? Absolutely. Is the second half of the movie terrible? Most certainly.
There is a hint of a story given here in the beginning. The entire movie happens in a single night, except for the ending. The story begins with Alice, a young woman who was hiding a secret. She was in a relationship but was cheating on her partner with a young fellow. A sin, some might say. Whether or not she was married is not clear, but the infidelity was going to cause her some problems, albeit indirectly. Alice and her ‘friend’ John stopped at a gas station in the dead of night, and she went into the convenience store to get some coffee, obviously unaware that the store might become her final resting place. A sniper was lurking in the dark, somewhere near the billboard that read ‘GODISNOWHERE’. He had a point to make, and he deemed Alice to be the perfect candidate to make it to for some reason. However, he wanted to shoot her first. Yes, Alice does get shot and is stuck in the store. Bodies pile up, and we can’t seem to figure out what it’s all about. Why was the maniac shooting at her? There was Erik, Alice’s partner, who was supposed to be sorry for something, but all that was extraneous, it seems. He got his screen time only via FaceTime, sadly.
It would have been better, I now surmise, if the reasons for the target practice were kept hidden. At least I could have properly projected my own interpretation of the thing. The question of whether the billboard read ‘God is now here’ or ‘God is nowhere’ fascinated me. I might have imagined a scenario where Alice’s life depended on the correct interpretation. Anyway, the second half of the film went in a direction that seemed like a total copout. Horror movies, for example, have always had this rule, almost, that sex is a sin and couples usually perish first, as a punishment. In this film, the sniper, as absurd as he is as a character, can be seen as retribution for her actions. This reading is not enough for the film’s second half, though. There just had to be something else supporting the ‘situation’.
There is a lot of good stuff in the film. The acting is surprisingly good. Alice, played by Camille Rowe, is a complex character, but the film never had the scope to bring all that out. Camille hence seems too dependent on the recreation of the sensory reality of just the situation and doing justice to the style of the film. There are no flashbacks where she could have gotten to show a different shade of the character. She does well in the end, with enough contortions on the face and the will to live behind the eyes. The other actors are inconsequential, and sadly, their deaths are orchestrated in a style that is too pulpy.
There is J. John Bieler, who is pretty good too, given he had to behave in a way to confuse the audience about whether he was the sniper or not. The location must have been chosen very carefully. The store is a good location for this type of thriller, as you can find everything you need to get out, and the glass window-front helps the sniper to aim at you in the store. So there is a balance! The film, in a way, plays with geometry as well, and this is where it’s frustrating. What is the exact angle the sniper can shoot at? The cinematography does its best to clarify that part, but there is too much mathematics going on here. The repetitive ‘reaching for the phone’ shots are not exciting to watch. The smart move here is the walkie-talkie that helps fill the vacant scenes with dialogue.
Night of the Hunted has to be appreciated because it’s trying to do the best it can with what it’s got. It’s even using the display of the title of the movie to set itself apart. The issue was the revelation of the sniper’s motive and the ultra-direct political spiel the movie forced itself into. It broke the whole narrative flow, and the thing about it is that it seems to have been done deliberately. Like a parody of another politically charged movie, almost. There was a moment where even Alice thought that she was being hunted for her sins, and the film deceived its own character as well. Alice is a flawed person, but we root for her, as the sniper doesn’t have the right to pass a death sentence on to her. The connection between him and Alice was so arbitrary that it ultimately became meaningless. The ending tries to neatly give some kind of shape to the film’s philosophy, but it’s all so messy. The movie suddenly believed that gore was the answer to all of its problems. But it wasn’t. The writing had to be cogent for the film to work, but ultimately, the expectations set by the first half are devastatingly broken in the second. Night of the Hunted is a decent film considering the kind of film it is. It is a situation movie, alright, as Tarantino would have told you. There are twists and turns, but there is no story.