31 Days to Scare ~ Night of the Hunted

The Facts:

Synopsis: When an unsuspecting woman stops at a remote gas station in the dead of night, she’s made the plaything of a sociopathic sniper with a secret vendetta.
Stars: Camille Rowe, Alexander Popović, J. John Bieler, Jeremy Scippio, Staša Stanić, Brian Breiter, Monaia Abdelrahim, Abbe Andersen
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Rated: NR
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: With summer officially wrapping up, it doesn’t just mean putting away our warm-weather clothes and patio furniture; it also signals the last opportunity for one of my favorite events during these precious few months we get in MN: the road trip.  I love hopping in the car to get out of town and explore.  Being in the Midwest, we aren’t too far from some gorgeous Northwoods, but finding somewhere not quite so flat requires a bit of effort.  Doing the Grand Canyon in an RV with friends is still on my bucket list, even though I’ve watched enough horror films about similar groups meeting a deadly end on such a trip to have second thoughts.

While I won’t say no to a road trip, what I don’t care for is having to drive at night through unfamiliar territory or, worse, get stuck in a remote location without a way to call for help.  That’s happened before, and visions of cannibals stalking my car grow vivid the darker the night gets as we wait for a tow truck to arrive.  A film like Night of the Hunted puts a whole other fear of travel into my mind, with one passenger trapped inside an isolated convenience store by a vicious sniper with the perfect vantage point to track her every escape route.

Traveling back from a business convention late at night with her co-worker John, Alice (Camille Rowe, The Deep House) has a lot on her mind.  We gather from reading her texts to her husband and how she interacts with her colleague that the marriage is rocky, and the working relationship has grown intimate.  Her husband wants to work things out, and Alice has decided that’s what she wants; if only she can get back home and pick up the pieces of a pretty picture she’s shattered.  First, though, she needs coffee.  Steering off the highway to avoid delays, John and Alice stop at a lonely service station to fill their tanks with gas and caffeine.

At first, the store looks dead, which is no surprise given the hour.  As John (Jeremy Scippio) pumps the fuel, Alice enters and can’t find anyone working behind the counter.  Turning to leave, Alice notices a billboard illuminated in the night sky.  One word: “GODISNOWHERE.”  Is it God is Now Here or God is Nowhere?  On second thought, maybe she should look again for someone inside.  That’s when the first shot rings out from a hidden sniper that has been waiting, clipping Alice in the shoulder and setting off a night of tense terror for Alice, John, and any unlucky soul that passes by.

A remake of the 2015 Spanish film Night of the Rat, Night of the Hunted uses its larger budget to build upon that original movie without losing the amped-up suspense that makes both films such a treat.  Director Franck Khalfoun (a longtime collaborator of Alexandre Aja, working with him recently on Oxygen) may fumble a bit in the first act with actors that don’t gel and makes a significant logic blunder going into the finale involving Alice’s ability to materialize in a location she couldn’t be only to move the story forward. Otherwise, his handling of the confined setting keeps the audience in a steadfast grip.

Things start to drift when the mysterious killer’s motivations are brought to light.  Screenwriter Glen Freyer throws in purposeful dead ends and some clever misdirection along the way, but eventually, the viewer starts to feel like the manipulation is getting out of hand.  Mixed messages are passed around, and we’re never sure if the sniper intentionally lashed out to Alice and orchestrated the entire event or if she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Adding a new character late in the runtime, and a lethargically lousy actor at that, does no favors for keeping the energy high.

The good news is that while Rowe begins the film as a bit of a weakling, she comes roaring back to life by the time the 90-minute film finishes.  Different from the heroines we’ve come to know in similar features, we aren’t supposed to like her fully, yet she’s the one put in peril, so we have to root for her.  The sniper outlines why we shouldn’t consider her worthy of making it out of the store alive. However, asking the viewer to play judge, jury, and executioner casts them as part of a growing problem in our country of using public sentiment as a rationale for abhorrent behavior.  Rowe doesn’t shy away from the sore spots of Alice, but she isn’t about to apologize for them either to survive the night.

Premiering on Shudder, Night of the Hunted could have been a hair shorter and had less dialogue if it wanted to be far more effective.  Too often, the characters are speaking what they are thinking, and wouldn’t it have been more chilling to see a nail-biter that had you holding your breath, trying to stay silent along with the victim on screen, hoping to evade a gunman’s trigger finger?  Despite too many forced false moves of misdirection, this is a worthwhile watch for Rowe’s performance and Khalfoun’s attention to the tension created by the situation.

Where to watch Night of the Hunted

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