Dir. Travis Stevens (2022)
Serial killing ain’t as easy as it used to be, as a charming psychopath discovers after luring a young woman on a weekend trip discovers.
Coming December 1 from Shudder, A Wounded Fawn delves deep into a critique of misogyny and the male gaze through the purview of Greek mythology and Giallo-inspired madness. Traditional tales are filled with moral lessons and justice by way of otherworldly control, the gods seeking vengeance on behalf of those wronged and to impose their will on those who displease the pantheon of celestial beings who control the world. A Wounded Fawn plays with these legends, blending the world of art and ancient history into a film that is equal parts style and substance, a unique acid-trip of a film that feels like an avant-garde arthouse slasher as much as a paranoia-infused psychological horror.
Director Travis Stevens leans hard into his inspirations, inserting grain into the film to give it a retro look and dabbling in themes explored in the past by the more auteur-minded horror directors. The blood is Deep Red (see what I did there?) and the gore is effective, the melted-crayon-colored fluorescence a throwback to the Italian masters. The vivid palettes are exquisite and the set design flawless and gorgeous from every angle, filled with ethereal art pieces that tease the progression of the story while serving as a beautiful backdrop for the carnage that encroaches the edges of the frame. Every scene drips with dread, a slow burn that, often literally, keeps you on the edge of your seat. The audience is lulled into the belief that they know what’s coming and they very well might, but Stevens refuses to get there in the way they expect to travel. Filling the boundaries with shockingly disquieting ghouls, Stevens finds ways to make us tick without ever knowing for sure what is real and what is nightmare.
Nightmarish visuals and modern allegory aside, the film quickly becomes less a critique of masculinity and more a murder revenge story punctuated with mythological beastly deities, the Greek Furies represented as terrifying feminist avengers. They are exactly that, of course, as the film reminds us of their propensity to be “questing like hounds” while delivering supernatural comeuppance. Josh Ruben, who plays the serial killer Bruce, is phenomenal, while Sarah Lind, who plays his victim, is excellent in the dual role of hunted and hunter. Both actors make the film worth watching, even if horror that drifts toward more arthouse sensibilities is not usually your thing. Thankfully, I’m down for weird, allegorical shit, so this film was a homerun in my book.
Intended or not, one of the more interesting themes explored in A Wounded Fawn is the concept of blame. Much like in the stories of heavenly intervention that filled Greek mythology, the audience is left to ponder how much of the things we see on-screen are actually Bruce’s fault. If he is actually that mentally deranged, being driven to kill by intangible creatures that only he can see and hear, is it his fault if he kills a few ladies along the way? It may have never been Virgil’s intent that we question the motivations of his revenge-seeking gods, but modern scholars are quick to point out the viciousness and extremity of their measures. Viewing Bruce through a modern psychological lens, it is a fair consideration to wonder the extent to which Bruce is a slave to his impulses as much as any mentally ill person who can’t control their behavior.
At the end of the day, A Wounded Fawn is an excellent revenge flick with an a twist, a film that contrasts its ghastly visuals with a modern lesson. Eventually, the piper must be paid, especially when said piper is embodied by ancient Greek deities schooled in the art of vengeance. Extrapolated to other victimizers, those who use their power to debase, insult, and assault women, we can only hope that the punishment inflicted on Bruce will be visited on his kin. The bravery to discuss modern problems through a mythological lens should be applauded, and while this one might not hit home with everyone, it definitely did with me. By the time the film reaches its brutal and extravagant finish, we don’t know who we feel worse for, but we’re glad we were along for the ride.
Who this movie is for: Modern horror fans, Giallo lovers, Art enthusiasts
Bottom line: Filled with bright red gore and gorgeous set pieces, A Wounded Fawn is a fascinating discussion of modern problems with ancient solutions. Josh Ruben and Sarah Lind are excellent, helping to craft this narrative of hunter and prey that manages to flip itself around by the time we’re done. It’s a gorgeous movie, stylized and brilliantly told, and this is one that is going to find an excellent home on Shudder for more discerning horror fans. Highly recommended for arthouse horror fans, check this one out when it drops on Shudder on December 1st.