FrightFest 2020: AV The Hunt review

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A film with interesting ideas, here’s our review of AV The Hunt, a new horror feature that sets things up really rather well.

AV The Hunt does not bombard you with set-up. In fact, it hardly troubles you with it at all. We start with a character, something happens, we aren’t told why, but we are off. We understand the stakes, though; that lead character Ayse (played brilliantly by Billur Melis Koç) is in danger and that she must move. There is urgency and there is tension.

Director Emre Akay, working from a script co-written by Akay and Deniz Cuylan, utilises a minimalistic approach with AV The Hunt, and it works brilliantly. The lighting is naturalistic and the handheld camera work, particularly in the first half, is put together with a calm, steady rhythm. Dialogue is sparse and the plot details are drip fed to us as and when we need them. The simplistic score serves to pull everything tightly together. The end result is a film that, for at least its first 45 minutes or so, is economic, unpredictable and very, very tense.

Ayse is on the run, pursued by, well, we’re not entirely sure. We do know that no one seems keen to be around her, and that help is in short supply. She decides that the safest place for her is Istanbul (the film was made and is set in Turkey), but isn’t entirely clear on how she’s supposed to get there.

This is a grimy tense thriller that plays with our expectations and knows to keep us on our toes. It’s a film where characters are surprised and unsure, where nothing goes to plan and no one in the film has any clearer idea of what might happen than we do as the audience. There is some exploration of the theme of honour, and the different ways it’s applied to men and women, which adds some welcome substance to a visceral film.

AV The Hunt features some interesting violence, too. The more sparingly it applies its violent incidents the more effective they are. It’s only as we get towards the end of the film that violence becomes more common and makes significantly less impact. But that’s part of a bigger problem.

That problem comes, then, when the film hits an expansive forest. It’s a beautiful setting and the cinematography really communicates an endlessness to it. Yet, it’s in this expanse that we find familiarity and lose track of our tension. For a film that was tightly wound for its first 45 minutes, the tension dissipates into the air as an unexpected car chase leads us into the woods.

There are a few moments, such as the cave scene, that will have you holding your breath again, but they’re few and far between. We then fall into a small group hunting Ayse through the forest, which is a set-up that we’ve seen played out on the screen again and again.

It’s also in the woods that we get a bizarre, albeit brief dream sequence that is a difficult inclusion to understand. It certainly doesn’t work, and it turns out that it serves to set-up the final scene of the movie, one that feels particularly ill-judged and tinged with hysteria. What happened to the minimalism that made the first half of the film so compelling? It’s a sour note to end on.

As such, AV The Hunt ends up as both a welcome surprise and a bit of a missed opportunity. While the second half does serve to deflate the film somewhat (although it’s still a perfectly watchable thriller), the quality of the first 45 minutes really mark it out as a feature worth watching. At its best, it’s an extremely effective and impressive thriller.

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