Written by Ankit Ojha

 

What to Expect

The Blair W-oh no. That's not us!

The Blair W-oh no. That’s not us!

Indeed, in comes yet another found footage film trying in all desperation to cash in on the lowest investment possible, waiting for the almost impending box office success. Horror films made with such technique are not just cheap, but have a major fan base; which is primarily why they work so well. This, in turn, is why such films are made time and again, with almost no heed paid to the quality of the movies. While this is the sad truth of how this genre-type works, what’s most unfortunate is that the found-footage technique has immense potential to dazzle the discerning viewer with nothing but the sheer challenge of creativity the makers are posed with when taking such a thing up.

Films like The Blair Witch Project, End of Watch and Chronicle worked with the critics mainly because of the choice of cast, and the technique’s use to lend authenticity, or it being twisted around with ample justification to lend a fairly crazy setup to the proceedings. The makers’ understanding of the use of the technique as a weapon more than anything else is the only reason movies as such can achieve the required creative leverage they deserve more than anyone else.

At such a cynical time of our lives arrived a smallish film – the debut directorial effort of actor Josh Stewart (television’s No Ordinary Family) – we’ve all come to know as The Hunted last year. The movie just ended up making its humble release around here, and – cynical of the way the film was made already – I decided to go check it out, which was a big step for me primarily because I steer clear of horror as much as possible – the coward that I can be with such movies.

What’s it About?

Two guys decide to partner up to make a television series on hunting, the pilot episode of which they’re trying to shoot in the woods. Their goal: to create a reality show-esque episode, the topic of which would be to kill “Movie Star” – the enigmatic buck in question who’s appropriately named. In the process of events, Stevie (Ronnie Gene Blevins) – the cameraman – begins to stumble upon some unnatural occurrences, bringing them to Jake’s (Stewart) notice. As they begin to investigate their sinister surroundings, they’re unwittingly forced to uncover more than they bargained for.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Stewart: "So, we're making this found footage movie in the woods, about an unseen force-" Sudduth: "You mean The Blair Witch Project?

Stewart: “So, we’re making this found footage movie in the woods, about an unseen force-“
Sudduth: “You mean The Blair Witch Project?

Let’s be very honest here – the movie looks and feels a lot like The Blair Witch Project – and not just because it’s situated in the woods. Sure, the character arcs are different from those in the ’99 horror surprise hit, but the situations they’re thrown into have an insane amount of intersections (howsoever subtle). That set aside, the movie starts on a very strong note, establishing Jake as a family man and hunting enthusiast. The abrupt edits and the way the shots are arranged as such do lend a feeling of authenticity. Found footage films normally lazily show first person perspective shots regardless of intent or relevance. That mistake is fortunately not made here, and the way the movie is ultimately shot and knit together gives us a sense of artificial realism – to a certain extent.

The realism immediately disappears when we’re able to notice cracks within Stewart’s writing. There’s a lot of silly expository dialogue thrown in to unwittingly lend a backstory to some characters. As a director, Stewart’s okay with handling his own performances, but most of the rest of them seem like cardboard cutouts that you can’t have much of empathy with. On the flip side, he sets up the atmospheric tension through the film really well. The lay viewer is involved enough to want to put the pieces together with glee. What the movie here then suffers from is the inconsistent pacing. At most times, the movie feels like flat and boring – almost like there’s nothing happening throughout. While this initially blends in well with the creepy atmospheric setup, that fades off eventually to elicit reactions of boredom and irritability.

In all obviousness, the movie ends abruptly; a deliberate attempt at making people feel like this was the amount of found footage acquired to show the viewers. The execution, however, fails the intent, and looks fairly jaded an attempt. Stewart shows promise as director in a few scenes, but needed the additional weapon of experimentation to fuel his fire of being behind the camera.

The movie’s technically laced with fairly experimental cinematography and camerawork, and a snazzy edit. It also – surprisingly – contains the occasional background score, which ruins the momentum of immersion in a film whose technique strictly doesn’t require any. The production design is pretty bare-bones, a requirement for this film type, and does well at being just that.

To Perform or Not to Perform

"Oh no. The unseen force is EXACTLY like the blair witch. How did I NOT see that coming?"

“Oh no. The unseen force is EXACTLY like the blair witch. How did I NOT see that coming?”

Josh Stewart (also the voice of CASE in Interstellar, if anyone’s curious) delivers a consistent performance as an actor. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s entirely likeable. He, however, doesn’t turn our tolerance of his performance into hatred, so there’s that. Blevins (Joe) delivers the most inconsistent performance of the lot, which shows during scenes of extreme intensity, where his utter deliberation and artifice betrays his performance completely. Skipp Sudduth (television’s The Good Wife) in his short role is perfectly fine. Others are okay.

Worth it?

The Hunted might provide some fairly well-done atmospheric scares to the hardcore fans of found-footage horror movies in particular. It’s undeniable, however, that this film had so much potential with its premise, despite the concept holding a lot of parallels with The Blair Witch Project, which, in output, is ultimately ruined with shoddy performances, weird cinematic liberties taken in (particularly) the form of an occasionally present background score, unimpressive expository dialogue and a vague end that may have an intent, but fails miserably at execution.

If only for some stellar gems of it, I still have hope for the technique’s betterment and introduction into more genres to tack on a dynamic edge to it. This film, in the meanwhile, goes right into the unimpressive pile of cash-grab attempts the makers bank on this technique for.

Star Rating: 1.5 / 5