Alice, portrayed by Camille Rowe (known for her role in “The Deep House”), sleepily engages in a video call with her husband while preparing in her hotel room. She ends the call moments before her lover, John, played by Jeremy Scippio, enters the scene, narrowly avoiding a disastrous encounter. After a brief moment to compose herself, Alice encourages John to join her as they venture out into the night to begin their journey back home. However, their progress is halted as they make a stop at a remote rural gas station in the dead of night, which quickly transforms into a perilous battle for survival when Alice discovers that she’s trapped there, targeted by a sadistic sniper.
Director Khalfoun, who co-wrote the screenplay with Glen Freyer, wastes no time plunging into horror territory after introducing the enigmatic protagonist, Alice. The desolate setting inherently sets an eerie tone, and the filmmaker rapidly escalates the suspense with sudden gunfire, leaving Alice isolated, wounded, and desperate for cover. This sets the stage for an intense cat-and-mouse showdown between the hunter and the hunted, as Alice strives to unveil her assailant’s motives and find a means of escape.
“Night of the Hunted” excels when it focuses on the chilling and thrilling pursuit by an unseen assailant with astonishing accuracy. The more Khalfoun delves into the mysteries behind the attack and stages scenes where Alice must maneuver to elude the sniper’s line of sight, the more riveting the story becomes. The ambiguity surrounding whether this is a random act of violence or a calculated targeting of an unsympathetic lead character enhances the unpredictability in the initial stages of the film.
However, as the sniper begins to reveal his motivations and beliefs, the film’s polarizing message threatens to overshadow the horror elements. An erroneous subplot attempts to divert attention and prolong the central question of what drives this relentless pursuit of Alice, but it ends up bogging down the intense action. The situation is not helped by on-the-nose dialogue that strives too hard to drive home the point. The silver lining is that just as the social commentary teeters on the brink of overexposure, a bloody climax and a scathing final twist effectively convey the cautionary message.
Camille Rowe carries the film with grace, often appearing as the sole character on screen for extended periods. The fact that Alice is introduced as morally ambiguous adds depth to the character, and Rowe masterfully evokes empathy through her physicality in the harrowing sequences and nuanced vulnerability.
A tense standoff scenario is occasionally weighed down by prolonged dialogues between Alice and the sociopathic sniper, delving into a “both sides” argument to a somewhat uncomfortable extent. Khalfoun takes his time to assert his stance, and only in the closing moments does the intricate message become evident. The journey to that point is frequently intense but occasionally muddled by heavy-handed dialogue. Nevertheless, every step in the film serves to set the stage for the impactful final twist. “Night of the Hunted” taps into the prevailing anger of our times, resulting in thrilling outcomes, although it occasionally falters in articulating its message.