Monday, June 5, 2023

You Ain't Nothin' But Hounded

There are only so many stories one can tell, particularly in a 100 year old medium that puts out hundreds of properties every year. It's almost an annual tradition to find a low budget spin on The Most Dangerous Game in the horror genre, and one I welcome. 

Quick Plot: A quartet of thieves decides to take on the fateful one last job stealing an antique ceremonial knife out of a sprawling and isolated estate. Naturally, the owners return early and flip the script.

One blurry van ride later and they're now even farther away from bustling London, dumped into the British countryside and told to take their head start. Leader Leon, his brother Charlie, and their pals Vix and Tod learn the game pretty quickly: it's an old fashioned (and illegal) fox hunt, and they're the prey. 

The hunters are the Redwicks, a family of blue bloods as white and aristocratic as you can possibly imagine. Decked out in red riding gear and the poshest of accents, they treat their murder spree as the highest of sports while our young heroes have to use their smarts to survive. 

The most pleasant surprise about Hounded is that for a typical hunt 'em down horror movie, it has a shockingly kind soul, with characters who act like genuine human beings. Sure, our protagonists are thieves who make their living by (mildly) victimizing (very wealthy) others, but as soon as they're thrust into danger, they stand united. Charlie is shaken and guilt-struck when his escape tactic leads to a hunter's death. It's a rare human moment that most horror films wouldn't think to acknowledge. 

Death is obviously a huge part of the genre, and while many films give that the weight it deserves, these kinds of more action-driven basic stories usually race through the stakes. But the truth is that if most of us were being hunted and ended up killing those trying to kill us, the fact that we just took a human life would hit hard.

Hounded is the directorial debut of Tommy Boulding, who served as the editor for an impressive batch of genre films (including the very good Possum and very fun Choose or Die). It's definitely a strong start, with a solid script by the team of Dean Lines and Ray Bogdanovich. No dogs die and a bear trap goes off. What more can I want?

High Points
I didn't recognize the lead Redwick, Samantha Bond (a stage actress best known in film for playing Moneypenny in the '90s Bond movies) but I know I'll clock that voice in ANYTHING going forward. She plays the cool and collected villain so perfectly to the point that I was weirdly satisfied with the film's ending (I'll tread around spoiling) because as awful a person as her character is, I would watch a whole series built around those striking vocal chords. 

Low Points
Stay with me: this is a negative that's actually a positive. Hounded is barely 90 minutes long and as much of it is chase-based, stays incredibly lean on exposition or much in the way of character details. That helps the film tremendously in feeling like a quick dark ride, and with a first-time filmmaker and low budget, was absolutely the right choice to make. BUT, the low ambitions is what will keep this as a "better than it should be" rather than a "great" little watch, because there's not that much to linger with you. We just don't get enough time with our heroes or history on our villains to really feel like there's much substance. Again, I think Boulding was probably wise to pace his debut as he did, but ultimately, it means I walk away from this film being more excited about what he can do next rather than with what I just experienced. Consider it a double edged ceremonial knife.

Lessons Learned
Money doesn't buy you taste

When planning a robbery, always wear comfortable athletic clothes (you know, in case the tables are turned and you're left playing the most dangerous game)

Rich British humor generally targets fishermen

Hounded (or Hunted, if you find it via Amazon Prime) was a pleasant surprise. It doesn't necessarily do anything you haven't seen before, but it does what you expect quite well, then tops itself with a few smart choices. There's a part of me that wishes it had more ambition to its storytelling, but sometimes a small bite is just enough. 

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