Night of the Hunted (2023)

NIGHT OF THE HUNTED is a really tense, unsettling single-location thriller just released to Shudder. It’s directed by Franck Khalfoun (who did the Elijah-Wood-starring remake of MANIAC), and he co-wrote it with Glen Freyer, remade from the 2015 Spanish film LA NOCHE DEL RATON (NIGHT OF THE RAT). The premise is about as simple as they come: a woman on her way home late at night gets trapped in a gas station mini-mart by a sniper.

As usual in these sorts of set ups, the protagonist is already going through some drama. Alice (Camille Rowe, KNUCKLEDUST) was attending a convention for work with her co-worker John (Jeremy Scippio, UNDERBELLY BLUES). They’re driving in the middle of the night to get her home in time to see a fertility doctor with her husband Erik (Aleksander Popovic, KNOCK KNOCK 2). But we can see by the nonchalant way John gets into the shower in front of her that they’re having an affair. And we can see from Erik’s texts that they’re aware of problems in the marriage they’re trying to work out. She’s clearly wrestling with what to do with her life, and annoyed with John too, and then she goes in to get coffee, finds no one on duty to buy it from, and gets shot in the arm.

I’m a fan of Khalfoun’s P2, in which a stalker traps a woman in a parking garage on Christmas Eve, so I knew he’d be good at finding ways to escalate the conflict as the protagonist goes through every idea she can think of to escape, to get help, to survive, to hide, to fight back. Alice has to stay out of sight behind shelves, creating distractions when she wants to move around. She uses her ingenuity, throwing packs of batteries to try to flip a light switch or knock over a mop that she can use to try to reach her phone. She duct tapes a mirror from a sunglass spin-rack to an extender to try to get a look around. Having access to the contents of the mini-mart makes for an original self surgery scene: she uses hand sanitizer on the wound and shuts it with Super Glue (I must note that it really looked like her fingers would get stuck) and then is able to take an Ibuprofen afterwards.

She tries to get help through a walkie talkie left on the counter, only to be talking to the sniper, having given him her name. So she has an ongoing conversation with him throughout the siege. It’s a remote gas station, but a few people show up. At first Alice tries to get help, get someone’s phone. Then she starts trying to warn them away. When a person comes in and does not get shot she has to worry that this is the shooter.

P2 is also a movie about women having to deal with misogyny and male entitlement – a guy that’s become obsessed with her and won’t accept rejection, feels it could only come from bad motives and therefore it’s justified to lash out at her. This sniper seems to follow somewhat in that tradition, claiming to have been wronged by a woman, making judgments and accusations about Alice, deciding her life is his business, turning her into a representative of all women, then all people he thinks are against him.

He makes it political. Unspecified “lies” seem to be his primary complaint, though he mentions vaccines a few times, “fake news” once, “woke” once, the insurrection once, lockdowns at least once. I admit I felt some dread when I realized this was gonna be about These Times We’re Living In, and the current buzzwords immediately got my bullshit radar spinning. But I’m surprised to report that it only caught a few minor pings. This guy’s specific bitterness, his superior-but-aggrieved tone, the incoherence of the points he’s trying to make, the confidence that his philosophizing is interesting, the assumptions about her politics, the pride in bringing up things outside of stereotypical right wing obsessions as if it’s gonna blow her fuckin mind – these are all very familiar, they ring very true, we’ve all had to hear this exact fucking asshole spew a million times over the years, and he’s really been having his moment in the last few. Luckily he’s more likely to start a Youtube show or make selfie videos in his pickup truck than do a mass shooting, but this is a movie.

The convenience of Alice telling him she works in the pharmaceutical industry is a, uh, hard pill to swallow, but there’s enough evidence to convince me that he already knew this and really did follow her from the convention (one of several possible backstories he taunts her with, Heath-Ledger-Joker style). He likes being cryptic or ambiguous, so we really don’t know if he actually cares about drug overdoses, or if he really believes in some antivax bullshit, or if he’s trying to make a point about her assuming he believes in antivax bullshit. He talks about “having a real conversation” but even setting aside the gun, he’s not really communicating. He’s trolling.

I was shocked when he actually started listing the locations of notorious mass shootings. For a moment I thought it was in poor taste to put that in a movie like this. But then I thought it was just being honest. Might as well admit what world this takes place in. This is something people do. This guy thinks he’s the fuckin Riddler, or John Doe from SEVEN, a super villain or criminal mastermind. Or maybe he knows he’s just another angry asshole in a country dumb enough to give every angry asshole access to handy mass murder tools. I don’t see this mainly as a “guns are bad” movie, but maybe that’s just because guns being bad is so plainly baked into the movie premise and/or real life scenario of some motherfucker shooting at people that it doesn’t really count as a message. Just a reality.

It’s seriously creepy when, late in the movie, we for the first time see the gas station through the sniper’s scope and hear his voice as if next to him, not distorted through the walkie talkie. That’s when we realize oh shit, he’s coming down, he’s gonna be in the room with her. He enters the store and keeps up his same arrogant taunting IRL, F2F… except he’s still hiding behind a ski mask, with a hood pulled up over it. BIG ASS SPOILERS NOW. When she finally gets the drop on him she desperately wants to see what he looks like, and tries to pull his mask off. But she doesn’t manage before killing him a way that definitively removes the chance to see his face. (A great moment.)

I want to discuss the very last scene because I think it pulls the whole thing together perfectly, but obviously this requires some VERY LAST SCENE SPOILERS. We end with the gas station littered in dead bodies, explicitly representing two different generations, according to the psycho (who made fun of a pair of grandparents for showing love for each other). Alice succeeds in saving the life of the dead grey-hairs’ granddaughter, but she appears to be the only survivor. Innocence is saved, the sun is rising, a new day is upon us, and this little girl is on her own, with no plan but to start walking down this remote highway. What the fuck next? I don’t know. It’s some vaguely optimistic symbolism overwhelmed by the sensation of being completely fucked. That’s very accurate. That’s very now. I hope it’s not timeless.

There are a bunch of minor characters, but mostly it’s just these two, sort of like a play, except packed with violence and destruction. Rowe is a really good lead, creating an impression of this woman’s regular life in a short amount of time before being pushed to both physical and emotional extremes. She’s tired (tonight, and in general), armed with a good “what the fuck is this shit?” scowl, lanky and fashionable, but doesn’t hesitate to tear up her nice coat for bandages.

According to the credits the sniper is played by someone named Stasa Stanic, his only movie listed on IMDb. If he’s the Croatian guy or the Serbian guy I found social media profiles for than he did an amazing job sounding American. I really have no idea if a brand new actor gave this great performance or if Stanic is just the guy we see and someone else did the voice uncredited. It’s fitting that he remains faceless and unknown, just like the character, just like so many people tangentially in our lives, slinging shit at us over the internet from somewhere, for some reason. Who the fuck knows?

So I recommend this one – another Alexandre-Aja-produced banger from Khalfoun, and a reminder that he has a couple other ones I still need to catch up with. Many reviews will bring up Khalfoun having directed MANIAC and P2, which are not hugely popular movies but do have more fans than just me. I’m proud to be the one who also brings up WRONG TURN AT TAHOE, his Cuba Gooding Jr. crime movie. I don’t remember much but I really liked it at the time. I’m gonna assume it holds up.

One more note: this oddly isn’t the first Shudder exclusive one-location sniper thriller I’ve watched because of its very good but somewhat under-celebrated director; there was also Ryuhei Kitamura’s DOWNRANGE. Like many Shudder exclusives that one did eventually come out on physical media, if that helps anyone who’s interested but doesn’t want to subscribe.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 20th, 2023 at 5:34 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Responses to “Night of the Hunted (2023)”

  1. I had some misgivings about the political buzzwords too but I appreciate when she made the point that killing her wont solve any of his problems. That’s the damn truth.

  2. This is a solid single-location thriller, well-acted and shot, perfectly paced, vicious when it needs to be. But yeah, the bad guy sounds like a bot. He’s so on the nose, I kept waiting for a twist that never comes. Turns out he really is just that vacuous. I suppose that’s true to life about these piss-baby shooters we got these days who concoct elaborate conspiracy theories to explain the fact that they never bothered to develop a personality another human could stomach or learn any skills besides jerking off and playing CALL OF DUTY, but cinematically it’s a little unsatisfying.

  3. Has anyone coined the term “Elevated Lifetime” yet? If not, I’m trademarking that shit. Seriously, this was like if A24 acquired a Lifetime script and then hired a director whose pitch was “imagine it at quarter-speed with a right-wing Youtube spiel ADR’d overtop of it.” My favorite part was how the final confrontation kept getting interrupted by shots of a child singing a nursery rhyme at like 20 bpm as if it was the last act of Inception.

  4. This is sort of tricky territory. Because you want to write fully dimensional characters to fit the current mood. But so much sociopathy we see in the news and read online really is one dimensional, really does come from ideological simpletons. It creates unsatisfying drama when you port that over to movies. We put Travis Bickle up front in Taxi Driver, as many believed there was a nation of Bickles out there. Turns out, there are a bunch of Martin Scorsese’s backseat jackass from the same movie, and sometimes those are the ones that end up in our entertainment in 2023.

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