No, Shudder’s latest original – just in a couple of weeks ahead of Halloween – isn’t The Night of the Hunter. And no, it’s not a remake of Charles Laughton’s classic 1955 noir thriller. From director Franck Khalfoun and producer Alexandre Aja (High Tension), Night of the Hunted remakes a 2015 Spanish thriller, Night of the Rat. The single-setting thriller recalls other similarly-themed movies like ATM, Phone Booth, or Downrange. Khalfoun’s track record is a bit mixed – he nailed the Maniac remake but whiffed on that dreadful Amityville sequel. At the moment, critics are split almost right down the middle.
On her way home from a work convention, Alice is supposed to join her partner, Erik, at a fertility clinic. With their relationship strained, Erik remains encouraging and hopeful, but an ambivalent Alice has spent the night with her coworker, John. On an empty stretch of road, Alice and John are surprised when their car starts to run low on gas despite John asserting he just filled it the previous night. At a deserted gas station, Alice runs into grab some snacks, but an seen assailant begins shooting at her pinning her down and setting up a brutal fight for survival.
Night of the Hunted Starts Leans and Raw, But Can’t Maintain Its Tension
Writer and director Franck Khalfoun (Amityville: The Awakening, Maniac, P2) has experience with intense subject matter and single-setting locations. And it shows in Night of the Hunted’s first act, which wastes little time getting to the point. There’s a brief introductory scene set early morning in a roadside motel that accomplishes a few things. Khalfoun immediately establishes his protagonist’s moral ambiguity and hints that someone likely wants her stranded at a remote gas station. There’s an initial shock when the first shots are fired. From this point onward, Night of the Hunted feels brutal and lean. However, Khalfoun can’t maintain this white-knuckle tension across what’s an unnecessarily long runtime. Eventually the middle act goes in circles with random passerby lining up as disposable victims.
There’s an initial shock when the first shots are fired. From this point onward, Night of the Hunted feels brutal and lean.
To some extent, Night of the Hunted regains some momentum just in time for its climax. Regardless it’s never quite as urgent or raw as it felt for its first 20 to 30 minutes. Moreover, Khalfoun paints himself into a corner when it comes to his killer’s identity. Throughout the movie, the sniper taunts Alice with possible motives as he rhymes off a laundry list of grievances. While it may seem clever to keep the killer’s identity a mystery, some parts of the story necessitate a resolution. First and foremost, Night of the Hunted clearly establishes that our killer hasn’t randomly targeted Alice. He knows plenty about her and he must have pierced her gas tank well before the events of the movie. It’s a narrative conundrum that feels less intentionally vague and more like sloppy writing.
Night of the Hunted Gives Too Much Time to its Killer’s List of Grievances
Given its premise and single setting, Night of the Hunted rests heavily on Camilla Rowe’s (The Deep House) shoulders. As the cornered victim ‘Alice’, Rowe does just fine with the a screenplay co-written by Khalfoun and Rubén Ávila Calvo and Glen Freyer. She more than aptly captures the desperation and eventual resignation that’s befitting the situation. Initially, the thriller’s villain, a sniper possibly named Henry, works quite well courtesy of Stasa’ Stanic’s voicework. Don’t expect much in the way of surprises despite the best efforts from the writing trio. Most viewers will guess that the voice on the walkie-talkie is also the shooter. How else can the killer maintain a presence while still looming somewhere in the distance? But it’s also the constant banter over the walkie-talkie that makes this villain – and the protagonist – tiresome.
Yet Alice often feels like an unsympathetic protagonist whose third act attempt at heroism feels unearned.
Two problems quickly emerge in addition to the thriller’s stalling of tension. Much of the second half of the movie becomes a back-and-forth between Alice and her assailant in victimhood. That is, the sniper bemoans the usual laundry list of the alt-right, touching on everything from ‘wokeism’ to #MeToo in the workplace to gun rights. On one hand, audiences couldn’t be blamed for finding it troubling to give so much time to these grievances. But it also makes our killer more annoying than menacing. Yet Alice often feels like an unsympathetic protagonist whose third act attempt at heroism feels unearned. Perhaps Night of the Hunted wants to say something about the current culture wars. What that something is never feels entirely clear.
Night of the Hunted Can’t Quite Sustain the Tension Inherent In Its Single Setting
In spite of a tense and claustrophobic first act, Night of the Hunted can’t sustain this cat-and-mouse game for what feels like a bloated 90-plus minutes. Khalfoun recovers somewhat with a decent showdown between the shooter and Camille Rowe’s ‘Alice’. Certainly, it’s about as gruesome as one might expect from the creative team behind this thriller. But the story remains unsatisfying and the social commentary feels half-baked. Neither giving the killer so much to say nor keeping his identify hidden has the intended effect. It’s watchable, and often quite good, but Night of the Hunted falls short of its potential.