CAPSULE: A WOUNDED FAWN (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Travis Stevens

FEATURING: Josh Ruben, Sarah Lind, Malin Barr

PLOT: A schizophrenic serial killer takes a date to his remote cabin, but things don’t quite go as he plans.

Still from A Wounded Fawn (2022)

COMMENTS: Despite some classical allusions (to the Erinyes, who are described in the opening in as much detail as is necessary), A Wounded Fawn begins its life looking like it will be a relatively straightforward thriller. In the prologue we see killer Bruce dispatch a victim and meet the Red Owl, the hallucinatory entity who prompts him to murder against his will. We then fast forward to meet protagonist Meredith, who has unwisely swiped right on Bruce, and after a dinner of tacos has even more unwisely agreed to an overnight date at his remote cabin. When she gets there, she seems to be hallucinating, too, as we encounter mysterious bumps and shadowy figures (disruptions which only intensify after she plays a vinyl single impishly titled “LSD.”) But at almost exactly the halfway point, a movie that looks like it’s about to become a cat-and-mouse game between predator and prey undergoes an unexpected detour into the utterly surreal.

When this horror movie promotes itself as “surreal,” it doesn’t use the term in the usual “we’re going to show you some WTF stuff, man” sense. Travis Steven’s imagery was explicitly modeled on the work of two modern Surrealist painters: Dorothea Tanning and Leonara Carrington (who also supplies the film’s epigraph). The Red Owl is strange enough, but other entities soon appear: a nude woman attached to a moving stovepipe, a cartoonish blood-red cross between Cthulu and a beetle with google eyes, a woman in a red-lipped volto mask with long auburn ringlets with snakes crawling across her head. Rarely has the spectacle of a man battling his inner demons been depicted so literally.

Bruce is an unusual case: a character who is simultaneously a charming sociopath and a functional schizophrenic. It’s a difficult tightrope that Ruben walks admirably, eliciting about as much sympathy as we can expect to feel for such a monster. Although most have interpreted the film as a feminist allegory about abusive partners (which is almost certainly the intention), there remains an open question as to whether Bruce’s homicidal tendencies are a result of an irresistible compulsion, or whether that’s just a convenient excuse for him to give in to his depraved fantasies. Of course, from the perspective of his victims, the question of free will is moot. The entire final act of the film is an extensive psychoanalysis where Bruce’s brain is literally picked. Be sure to stay tuned for the end credits, which are as unforgettably odd and audacious as any I’ve ever seen. If you like your horror on the surreal side, A Wounded Fawn is sure to scratch your festering itch.

A Wounded Fawn debuts exclusively on Shudder starting today (Dec. 5). Normally, Shudder exclusives will show up at other outlets after a few months; we’ll be sure to update you when that happens.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This movie came to get weird, tell you men aren’t that great, and send you back into the world an even stranger person.”–Sharai Bohannon, Dread Central (contemporaneous)

Where to watch A Wounded Fawn

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