Robert is a regular young man out for a night drive when he sees a scared woman out in the dark, and invites her in. Unbeknownst to him, another woman was with her, and is soon recaptured by some mysterious orderlies. Robert tries to figure out where this woman is from, but she's suffering from a strange form of amnesia, and can't retain any information. They develop a bond, but she says she'll forget even that as soon as she leaves the room. This is proven when she's kidnapped again, and taken to a secret hospital. Robert tracks her down and intends to rescue her, but will she remember him?...
Night of the Hunted is one of French auteur Jean Rollin's more unique films. Set apart from the classical Gothic trappings of his past outings, and with no vampires in sight, the story that unfolds here is an interesting one.
The film gets off to a quick start, immediately introducing its characters, and setting up the overall mystery. The story is basic enough for this to work, but while it is a low-key story it never feels underwritten.
There's a lot of ambiguity in the action. The head of the clinic claims an environmental accident is to blame for these peoples' condition, and he is only trying to help. But if that's the case why is his clinic such a draconian place, with guns and everything (to say nothing of their maniacal staff!). Good doctors don't tend to use lethal force against patients, no matter how far gone. Robert to his credit is having none of this. The doctor says he'll explain everything, sure that once Robert knows everything he will understand and leave them alone. Yet once he's told the truth, Robert's immediate reaction is to brand them ruthless killers who probably caused the accident in the first place! Good on ya, mate!
The themes here range from the obvious (don't screw with the environment or else you'll create psychotic zombies, like in The Grapes of Death), to the more intriguing and subtle, like the power of memories, and what measure a human is without them. While the movie's story is scientific, there's an almost supernatural of events, such as the blowing wind in one scene.
Female kinship is also explored here, in the relationship between the mystery woman Elizabeth and Veronique, and the other women she befriends at the clinic. They manage to make some deep connections, despite their crippling circumstances.
The tone in Night of the Hunted is grim and violent, but I also noticed a strong undercurrent of sadness. This is quite a mature film, and it conveys what it wants in an effective way, without ever being too much either way.
The ending is a point which might satisfy some and disappoint others. In some ways I liked it. There is a great final shot, and a sense of closure. While it's not a happy ending by any definition, it's also not entirely sad, if that makes any sense. The disappointing part comes from the total lack of any other resolution. We don't need to see what caused this accident, or some kind of grand happy go lucky cure, but I was hoping for some punishment for the villains. Instead they all get off scot free.
While this is a haunting film in many ways, it can also be unintentionally hilarious. This is most evident in the sex scenes. Robert has only known this mystery woman 5 minutes, and she's clearly a disoriented amnesiac, but that doesn't stop them from immediately having sex, and she loudly declares that not only is this the best sex she's ever had, but it's so good she'll always remember him, despite her ongoing amnesia.
The performances in Night of the Hunted are interesting. While at first glance the prospect of playing a constantly naked person with no personality, emotions, or memory would be easy, considering some of the cast were former porn stars, but they manage to get across something special, achieving a certain kind of emptiness that really sells their roles. Brigitte Lahaie delivers a great performance, and due to her you care about her character, even if she's barely there. Alain Duclos is a good human protagonist, likeable and proactive. Bernard Papineau makes for a good villain, whose motives are potentially up for debate (though I never trusted him).
The effects here are good, with some neat gore. It can look a little fake in some scenes, but manages to otherwise impress. The music meanwhile is effective in places, though also a little laugh-inducing when it gets to the choral bits.
Rollin's direction here is very good, shooting the confined spaces of the clinic well. Many describe the movie as having a postmodernist look to it, with the strange and oppressive architecture. Even the streets of Paris are made to look cold and forbidding. The looming urban skyscraper is seen through withered branches, as if it's an old castle ruin. The ending features a neat location, with an interesting and authentic clash of old world and the new. The use of colour is wonderful too, with red mixing with white, purple and yellow, and the sky and city lights go together really well. For that we can presumably thank the people of Paris rather than Rollin.
Night of the Hunted is a violent, glum, and slow-paced watch, and not for everyone, but if you like those things, or are willing to tolerate them for a director you like, this is definitely recommended. It's a poetic and almost nightmarish odyssey...