French director Franck Khalfoun’s Night of the Hunted is a taut psychological thriller that will leave viewers breathless, if not entirely satisfied. This 2017 release is actually a remake of the 2015 Spanish language film La Noche del Ratón (Night of the Rat), though Khalfoun expands the original premise into a female-led survival tale set in an isolated gas station. Front and center is French model-turned-actress Camille Rowe as the enigmatic Alice, who finds herself the target of a distant but deadly sniper after stopping for gas in the middle of the night.
With its spare setting and suspenseful cat-and-mouse scenario, Night of the Hunted has drawn comparisons to classic contained thrillers like Assault on Precinct 13 and Panic Room. But Khalfoun also layers in themes of societal unease and moral ambiguity that have led to a divided response from critics. In this review, we’ll unpack the claustrophobic action and technical prowess that bring the tension in this thriller to an almost unbearable pitch.
But we’ll also examine whether the film’s heavier themes mesh seamlessly with the horror – or end up muddling the message. Night of the Hunted may not be a perfect film, but it offers enough nerve-fraying set pieces and psychological unease to appeal to genre fans who enjoy testing their limits. The question is whether the film matches its technical confidence with equal philosophical depth.
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A Late-Night Stop Turns Deadly
Night of the Hunted kicks off with pharmaceutical ad executive Alice (Camille Rowe) video chatting tiredly with her husband while still in bed with her co-worker and secret lover, John (Jeremy Scippio). This illicit romance is just one of the moral quandaries introduced in the film’s opening scenes. After ending her call, Alice convinces John to drive her through the night to an early morning fertility appointment, despite her husband’s warning that the freeway is closed.
Low on gas, John pulls into an isolated rural station just after 3am to refuel. Inside is seemingly deserted, but Alice immediately senses something amiss in the eerie stillness. Her unease turns to alarm when she finds blood splattered behind the counter – then to terror as a sniper’s bullets suddenly shatter the window, ripping through John and wounding Alice’s arm.
Now Alice is trapped alone inside the station, with John dead outside. The attacker, still unseen, continues firing whenever Alice moves into his line of sight. Armed only with everyday objects like a mop and umbrella, Alice struggles to treat her injury while avoiding further shots from the merciless sniper.
A walkie-talkie on the counter offers chilling proof she is being toyed with, as the sniper begins taunting Alice in a metallic voice. He spews misogynistic insults and grievances against society, while also dropping hints about Alice’s life to unsettle her further. As the shooter’s twisted game escalates, Alice must use every ounce of courage and ingenuity to survive until daylight.
The final moments bring agonizing twists, including the endangerment of a child. Night of the Hunted’s closing scenes mirror the original Spanish film’s ambiguous ending, leaving the viewer to wrestle with difficult questions. Has justice been served, or cruelty answered with further cruelty? The uneasy conclusion ensures this thriller sticks hauntingly with the viewer long after the credits roll.
A Feminist Fable or a Nihilistic Nightmare? The Troubling Themes of Night of the Hunted
On its surface, Night of the Hunted unfolds like a straightforward thriller. A lone woman stalked by an unseen predator must rely on her wits and resolve to survive. But look deeper, and Franck Khalfoun’s film wrestles with complex social themes that, while thought-provoking, may not always mesh seamlessly with the action.
At its core, Night of the Hunted depicts a harrowing cat-and-mouse battle between the resourceful femininity of Alice and the aggression of the male sniper targeting her. Early on, Alice displays courage, using mundane objects like mops and umbrellas to outmaneuver her attacker. The film seems set up as a feminist fable of a woman overcoming male oppression.
Yet the moral picture becomes more muddled as we learn more about Alice’s life. While intelligent and determined, Alice has also been unfaithful in her marriage and ambitious in her career. The film toys with whether she is wholly innocent or partly culpable in her plight.
Meanwhile, the sniper vocalizes a worldview saturated with misogyny and entitlement. He bitterly references Alice’s job in pharmaceutical marketing as evidence of society’s decay – and rants against victimhood culture and metoo allegations. His warped manifesto embodies the resentful ideology behind acts of masculinized violence.
Here the film tries to weave in serious social commentary on gender relations and societal breakdown. But these weighty themes sit uneasily beside the action, feeling more heavy-handed than seamless.
Night of the Hunted has been compared to New French Extremity films in this blending of visceral horror with philosophical themes. Yet its provocative ideas around morality feel more muddled than profound.
This murkiness extends to the film’s other main theme – the absence of hope in a nihilistic world. The church billboard touting “God Is Nowhere” casts an ominous shadow over all that unfolds. The film’s final act plunges into cruelty and vengeance, before ending ambiguously.
Rather than enlightening, Night of the Hunted’s exploration of gender conflict and social malaise muddies the waters on what exactly the film is trying to say. It lacks the nuance and insight to fully deliver on its ambitious themes. The social commentary comes across as more opaque than illuminating, frustrating rather than challenging the viewer.
While one can admire the effort to weave weighty ideas into its suspenseful premise, Night of the Hunted falls short as a philosophical exploration. It works better as a straightforward thriller than a nuanced treatise on the human condition. Those seeking a meaningful message may leave disappointed once the credits roll.
Technical Mastery Builds Unbearable Tension
While Night of the Hunted stumbles a bit when it reaches for lofty themes, the film’s technical execution delivers suspense to rival the best thrillers. Visceral visuals, an urgent score, and smart pacing combine to create an atmosphere thick with dread.
From the opening frames, director Franck Khalfoun immerses the viewer in a claustrophobic nightmare. The remote gas station setting oozes isolation. Stark lighting and handheld camerawork create a visceral, you-are-there perspective. When bullets pierce the station windows, the startling sound design and violent flashes make the viewer duck and flinch along with Alice.
Khalfoun propels the action forward through well-timed shocks and seamless editing. Just as the tension plateaus, another bullet whizzes by or the sniper’s chilling voice emanates from the walkie-talkie. The ambient soundtrack drones ominously throughout, the electronic tones evoking a mechanical, dehumanized menace. Clever camera angles tighten the vise, capturing Alice through the eerie green haze of the sniper’s night vision.
As Alice desperately weaves and dodges throughout the confined setting, Khalfoun stages her movements with precision. The viewer mentally maps the station’s layout and sightlines, creating organic peaks and valleys in the action. When Alice is temporarily out of view, our dread mounts along with the sniper’s frustration.
Right up to the disturbing final twist, Khalfoun maintains taut control of pacing and perspective. The pulsating visual language and soundscape work the audience into a state of nail-biting hypervigilance that never lets up.
For those who enjoy extreme tension and an adrenaline rush from films like Panic Room, Night of the Hunted’s technical mastery delivers the vicarious thrills. You feel immersed in each cat-and-mouse set piece, the suspense masterfully stretched to an almost unbearable pitch. While the film’s message may not satisfy, its visceral impact provides a master class in merciless, edge-of-your-seat tension.
Rowe’s Riveting Portrayal Anchors the Thrills
While Night of the Hunted succeeds most as a suspense delivery device, the acting cannot be overlooked as a key factor in drawing the audience into Alice’s plight. As the film’s anchor and emotional center, Camille Rowe delivers a stellar performance as Alice that deserves recognition.
With the majority of the runtime devoted to Alice in isolation, the film lives or dies on her portrayal of a woman pushed to her physical and psychological limits. Rowe rises to the challenge, conveying tenacity, anguish, and complexity. When Alice tends her wound early on, her mix of pain and determination rivets the viewer. Even in the confined setting, Rowe uses subtle facial expressions and body language to flesh out her character.
In early moments with her lover John, Rowe establishes a moral ambiguity that lingers over Alice’s subsequent ordeal. We wonder if she is fully innocent or partly complicit in her own fate. Rowe carefully walks this line, eliciting both empathy and unease in the audience.
As the sniper alternately taunts and peppers her with questions, Rowe’s reactions run the gamut from defiance to despair to rage. She compellingly portrays an ordinary woman discovering her own endurance under unimaginable duress.
Among the smaller supporting roles, Jeremy Scippio makes the most of his brief screen time as John to create an intriguing counterpoint to Rowe’s characterization. Their early chemistry plants the seeds for the danger to come.
Though unseen, Stasa Stanic menacingly voices the sniper with a distant cruelty that chills to the bone. The director wisely chose to keep the antagonist a faceless, dehumanized menace.
While the themes may not fully resonate, Rowe’s outstanding performance ensures our investment in Alice and her will to survive against imposing odds. She remains compelling whether conveying steely determination or emotional collapse. Without Rowe’s talent anchoring the film, the technical thrills would ring hollow.
Walkie-Talkie Showdown Drives the Drama
Creative limitations can sometimes inspire ingenious filmmaking choices. For a movie confined to a single location, the walkie-talkie exchanges between Alice and the unseen sniper become the engine driving the dramatic confrontations. This clever device builds tension while organically revealing the clashing perspectives.
In early scenes, natural dialogue quickly establishes the characters’ relationships and conflicts. Alice’s video chat with her husband hints at her infidelity, while her banter with John exposes their easy rapport.
Once the shooting begins, the talkie exchanges dominate, ratcheting up the mind games. For long stretches, the spoken word has to carry the film’s dramatic weight. Here the quality of the writing pivots between intriguing and exasperating.
At its best, the sniper’s cryptic comments drop intriguing clues, allowing the audience to piece together his possible motives. His misogynistic rants chillingly convey a sense of nihilistic entitlement.
But when the exchanges veer into belabored social commentary, the dialogue turns preachy. There are only so many militant feminist versus bitter male showdowns one can stomach before the pontification grates. A less heavy-handed approach could have preserved the palpable uncertainty.
For her part, Alice’s responses run the emotional gamut from stunned disbelief to simmering rage. Rowe’s delivery captures Alice’s desperation to engage an attacker she cannot see or comprehend.
While occasionally overcooked, the exchanges do heighten the cat-and-mouse psychological elements. The two sparring verbal combatants temporarily forget the talkie connection, accidentally revealing their inner thoughts. This dramatic irony injects welcome moments of tension.
Uneven but central to the film, the talkie duels hint at the story’s deeper themes, even when they grow excessive. In the constrained setting, the screenplay had to deliver exposition and conflict primarily through speeches, not actions. Viewers may grow weary of the pontificating, but the exchanges undeniably fuel the simmering confrontation.
Expanding the Premise for a New Generation
Since Night of the Hunted is a remake of the 2015 Spanish thriller Night of the Rat, comparing the two works illuminates where Franck Khalfoun diverged in his contemporary reimagining of the confined scenario. Fans of the original will notice both similarities and crucial differences.
The core premise of both films remains two people trapped in a remote gas station and tormented by an unseen sniper. This potent, claustrophobic concept still delivers tense thrills.
However, the key variation is that in Night of the Rat, the trapped man and woman are lovers together in the station from the start. By isolating Alice alone for the majority of the runtime, Khalfoun puts a distinctly feminist spin on the survival journey. Her solitary torment shifts the theme to a woman overcoming oppressive violence.
Both films also culminate in darkly ambiguous endings, refusing to offer the audience catharsis or closure. The haunting uncertainty about the fates of those involved amplifies the unease.
Where Khalfoun notably expanded the original is in using the sniper as a mouthpiece for social commentary. The shooter’s heated monologues touch on everything from economic disparity to political correctness to the plight of veterans. While heavy-handed, these topical rants give the remake a modern edge. The added backstory on Alice also increases her moral ambiguity.
The expanded runtime allows Khalfoun to include more cat-and-mouse set pieces and rich character development. The relationship drama between Alice, her husband, and her lover John receives greater attention and nuance.
While both films offer razor-taut suspense, Khalfoun tailors his remake for today’s audiences. Expanding the themes and Alice’s role modernizes the premise while retaining its hypnotic intensity. Viewers drawn in by the original will find enough fresh twists and turns to stay on the edge of their seats once more. Night of the Hunted may be a retread, but it finds new ground in its shifting social context.
A Bumpy But Wild Ride for Genre Fans
For viewers who enjoy testing their nerves with taut, merciless thrillers, Night of the Hunted delivers enough visceral suspense to warrant a watch. Just don’t expect the social commentary to match the technical panache.
Fans of confined location thrillers like Panic Room are advised to buckle up for a tense ride. The claustrophobic atmosphere, shocking violence, and breathless cat-and-mouse games will leave genre devotees on edge through the brisk runtime.
Camille Rowe’s outstanding performance as Alice anchors our investment, even when the plot machinery creaks a bit. Her emotional authenticity smooths over spots where the script leans sanctimonious.
While the thematic ambitions undermine the suspense at times, they don’t fully derail the chilling momentum. Once the adrenaline starts flowing, Khalfoun locks the viewer into the nightmarish scenario. The final act provides enough satisfying twists and turns to override lapses in subtlety.
Viewers turned off by gratuitous violence or ham-fisted commentary may find large swaths of the film distasteful. But if you enjoy being terrorized from the safety of your seat, Night of the Hunted delivers the gut-wrenching thrills.
The third act payoff ultimately rewards those able to stomach the bumps along the way. Night of the Hunted emerges as a mostly gripping, if imperfect, rollercoaster for hardcore thriller fans. Just check your expectations for narrative nuance at the door before strapping in for the ride.
Night of the Hunted
Despite some heavy-handedness, Night of the Hunted succeeds as a heart-pounding thriller, with Camille Rowe's performance and visceral suspense scenes overcoming uneven social commentary. The provocative themes don't fully work, but genre fans will find plenty to sink their teeth into. For lovers of claustrophobic thrillers who can overlook plot imperfections, it's worth a look.
- Strong lead performance by Camille Rowe as Alice
- Creates an atmosphere of claustrophobic dread and tension
- Excellent technical execution - sound, cinematography, pacing
- Contained thriller premise allows for creative set pieces
- Provides some unexpected twists and turns
- Misguided social commentary detracts from the horror
- The sniper's political rants are heavy-handed
- Uneven tonal shifts between genres
- Plot holes like how the sniper doesn't kill Alice sooner
- Falls short of being a nuanced exploration of themes
- Ending lacks a satisfying payoff or resolution