Look, I want to like the films of Jean Rollin. I really, really do. On paper, they should have everything I’m looking for in a vintage horror movie circa 1975-1982: freaky happenings, striking violence, copious nudity, that strange color quality only films from this era have. But judging from The Night Of The Hunted and the other two films I’ve seen by him (The Grapes Of Death and The Living Dead Girl), I have no choice but to come to the conclusion that the guy didn’t know how to tell a story to save his life. Looking back at my reviews of Grapes and Living Dead Girl, one criticism that was common to both films was that throughout the middle act, there was almost nothing in the way of incident or story movement–very little seemed to happen except that people fucked and died.
This problem is amplified to the point of madness in Hunted. I can accept, and sometimes even look past or apologize for, a lot of the intrinsic flaws of low-budget filmmaking, such as poor continuity and acting, or nudity shoved into scenes where it didn’t really need to be there, and Hunted has that in spades. But, not surprisingly, the thing that kills it is the story.
Once again, we have an intriguing start–a young man named Robert, driving through the night, picks up a young woman in distress. She knows her name is Elisabeth, she knows she was with someone named Dominique from whom she got separated, and she knows she’s escaping from someplace–otherwise, she’s a total amnesiac. Not only that, but five minutes later, she doesn’t even remember getting in the car or who Robert is: in addition to amnesia, she seems to be incapable of forming short-term memories. After Robert takes her back to his flat, fucks her gently (and presumably humps her sweetly and balls her discreetly) and leaves for work, she’s captured by a couple of scientists and returned from whence she came, which is a high-rise building (known only as “the Tower”) entirely populated by other people with the same affliction.
A distinct unease sets in even this early, because Elisabeth won’t shut up about how she doesn’t know who she is and she has no memories and oh God, isn’t that awful? Even when she’s having sex with Robert (in probably the dullest love scene I’ve ever seen committed to film) she won’t stop prattling on about her affliction. Things at the Tower are worse, because all her neighbors do is mill about dejectedly, like a bunch of Fox News analysts who have just received the final election results, and say the same things over and over about how horrible it is to not have memories. Their only breaks from the monotony occur at the frequent times they take off their clothes and either masturbate or fuck each other. (There is a reason for this stated onscreen, but it’s more like an excuse for all the nudity rather than an actual plot point or reveal.) Very little that is engaging, let alone important, happens for about thirty to forty minutes. Grapes and Living Dead Girl may have had slack middle acts, but Hunted pretty much has no middle act. Once Elisabeth gets to the Tower, you could fast-forward through the film to the last ten minutes and not miss anything.
And it’s not like this film doesn’t have potential. Every so often, an element of quality pops up, such as the sweet foreplay between Robert and Elisabeth, or the scene where Elisabeth and her roommate invent childhood memories to substitute for the ones they don’t have of each other, or the strangely affecting final minute. But none of this in any way justifies having to sit through the entire movie to get to them. The actors don’t seem to care (almost all of the key female roles are played by porn stars, which turns out exactly as you might expect), Rollin doesn’t seem to care (the carelessness of the direction is horrific, and obvious continuity errors abound: my favorites are two instances are when two characters are shot, with no apparent entrance wound, but bleed and die anyway), so why should the audience?
If Rollin were actually trying to say something–for example, that the anxieties of modern urban life turn us into zombies, or that the medical establishment treats the mentally ill shamefully–then I could at least give him points for trying. If the film had anything in the way of seeming like a surreal waking nightmare or had a mounting feeling of discomfort and dread, I might even have liked it, kinda. Hell, there’s one scene that makes a point of avoiding depicting lesbian sex, so he can’t even transgress properly.
From what I can tell, the entire point of this film is to get pretty ladies to show Rollin their boobs and beavs. As a straight male, I’m not opposed to such things, but if I want such things I’m sure I can find much better examples of them on the internet.
92 minutes; in French, with English subtitles. Directed by Jean Rollin. Starring Brigitte Lahaie, Vincent Gardère, Dominique Journet, Bernard Papineau.