People have been intrigued by the concept of humans hunting humans ever since Richard Connell published his influential short story, “The Most Dangerous Game”, in 1924. Almost every iteration of the media it inspired over the last 100 years has carried through an element of class disparity between hunter and prey, used originally to highlight the barbarity of hunting animals. Hounded is the latest in a long line of quasi-adaptations that tap into this notion and explore the idea that the upper classes see regular folk as subhuman, but the first to include all of the pomp and ceremony of fox-hunting.
The traditions of fox-hunting are so iconic, it’s hard to believe that they’ve never been wielded this way before. There’s something about fox-hunting gear that makes the posh look even posher and it can be used to create some wonderful moments of menace: red coats against the green foliage like smears of blood on the horizon; squinted eyes just below the riding helmet announcing their sinister plans; horns in the distance like the seven apocalyptic trumpets. It’s impossible to deny the sheer visual power of hunt traditions, particularly when you replace the usual quarry with marginalised members of society.
Here the quarry are four young thieves, Chaz, Leon, Vix and Tod, who find themselves on the wrong end of the beagles after breaking into a manor house in search of a ceremonial dagger, only to be captured by the aristocratic occupants who gleefully hunt them down in a darkly comic and on-the-nose commentary on class politics in the UK.
From the moment the bugle sounds, any notion of subtlety is blown away with it. This is a straight-up lampoon of the kind of snooty toffs that believe the world is their birthright. Even more so, the aristocratic villains here are so arch, so sneering, so egregiously posh, that any viewer will be praying for the tables to turn and for the hunted to finally get theirs.
Director Tommy Boulding’s previous work as an editor has given him the chops to ratchet up the tension and pay-off instants with confidence; even though most are telegraphed for miles, they still land with a huge splash. However, it’s clear that he has not got a lot of experience working with actors. The more seasoned hold their own and are clearly having a lot of fun, but there are more than a few challenging moments with Malachi Pullar-Latchman, Hannah Traylen, and Ross Coles as the young cast. There is talent here, even some hints of greatness, but some of the ‘street’ dialogue delivery misses the mark so palpably you might wonder if they have ever heard young people speak before.
The filmmakers may have thought that they were making a biting satire in the vein of Get Out — one that explores class in place of race — but Hounded never quite finds this level. Both sets of characters are drawn just a bit too broad, too exaggerated, and unambiguous in their class that they become caricatures, stand-ins for massive swathes of the population without any real nuance. Ultimately, the satire is undercut by the very protagonists themselves: despite how likeable they are, particularly when pitched in opposition to the wicked dandies, you can never really get beyond the fact that they are criminals.
While it’s entertaining to watch the fluid exchange from hunter to hunted, the lack of even the slightest subtlety means that you never have to think too hard. This absence of puzzle means that Hounded fails to stick with you beyond the credits.
CINEMA & DIGITAL
28 October 2022