Another year, another wealthy people hunt humans for sports cinema. The Most Dangerous Game was a splendid film (and book), but viewers would be forgiven for thinking this trope is getting a bit old now. Nevertheless, every few years, one such story comes along that is inventive or well done enough to breathe new life into it. While Hounded doesn’t have much to add to the premise, it does have well-drawn characters and a capable young cast that are well worth watching. It also makes timely use of public sensitivities around the British class system.
We begin with a group of young thieves who break into an isolated country house to steal a painting. Their leader, Leon (Nobuse Jnr), runs a tight ship, making sure everyone is well behaved and nothing else is taken out of the disrespectful treaty house. Vix (Hannah Traylen) shows a gentle side by calming the dog they meet there, lovingly caring for it. The man who ordered the work is satisfied with the result. He offers them more work. Leon doesn’t want it – his whole plan has been simply to raise enough money to send little brother Chaz (Malachi Pullar-Latchman) to college, giving him a future beyond the confines of their Peckham housing estate. Vix, however, bristles at the thought of getting a job. “Do what? Zero-hour contracts? I’d rather be a thief than work for one.
While the inherent goodness of these youngsters might seem a little overkill, the actors are skilled enough to carry it off and keep them real. Suffice to say that the gang agrees to do the job after all, and that it does not go as planned. Before they know it, they’ve been tasered, bound and gagged, and thrown into the back of a van, only to be dumped unceremoniously into a field, where they mistakenly assume their lesson is over. and that what landlady Kat (Samantha Bond) told them the justice system wasn’t worth it means they can go home now – if they can find their way home. Of course, viewers know better. There’s a sweet moment when our heroes mistake a hunting horn for a car horn and start running towards it, but they find out soon enough.
Hounded was clearly made on a shoestring budget. Indoor shots are kept to a minimum, the sound design implies there are a lot more dogs than we ever see on screen, etc. Nevertheless, director Tommy Boulding, whose experience is in editing and who has already worked with Pullar-Latchman on Shark Bait, manages to set the mood with a stretch of countryside whose nature and hazards are completely unknown to youth. Dangers that viewers anticipate and cleverly rework to deliver successful scares, while the camaraderie within the group makes it easy to get carried away and feel involved.
If there’s one notable weakness in the film, it’s that the aristocratic villains aren’t as well developed. Bond does a good dominatrix act in red riding gear, but beyond a well-formed accent and a sense of entitlement, there’s no depth to her character. Boulding seems to start from the assumption that none of these people feel empathy, even for their own species, which may suffice for satirical purposes but inevitably leaves them feeling rather cartoonish.
In contrast, the thieves’ characters are well-rounded and full of detail. Traylen brings a lot of heart to her portrayal of a young woman from a violent background who is terrified of being locked up, while Pullar-Latchman once again demonstrates a sensitivity that puts him among the talents the most promising of his generation. This quality proves essential to the film’s ability to shift gears and offer something more sophisticated than class warfare or persecution. As he dies with the paranoia of an earlier age, he ultimately delivers something that points to a generational shift in attitudes. Despite the cynicism of its premise and the criminal behavior of its protagonists, this is a film about justice that never turns its back on the possibility of positive change. A real crowd pleaser at Frightfest 2022, he looks set to pull off.
Hounded will be released by Signature Entertainment on Halloween.
Reviewed on: August 27, 2022