The Hunted (1998): Born to be Wild

Dave assesses a small screen survival thriller that deliver(ance)s more than you’d expect.

The mid to late ’90s was a purple patch for David Ives. In 1996, he was labelled as one of the 100 Smartest New Yorkers and in 1997 the New York Times referred to the author as “the master of the short form” [1]. By the end of the decade, he’d been hired by Warner Bros. to write the book for an intended Jim Steinman musical version of Batman, which Tim Burton was pegged to direct before the project’s abandonment. And in the middle of it all, Ives chose to pen his first original screenplay – a perhaps surprising choice considering it was done for the then decidedly less respectable medium of television.

Written in partnership with Bennett Cohen, THE HUNTED introduces us to Samantha Clark (Mädchen Amick), an ambitious investigator for insurance company American Frontier. A driven but instantly likable character, Samantha is forced to break the news to her disgruntled boyfriend, Jan (Hannes Jaenicke), that their holiday is postponed due to a pressing case. It’s a no brainer for Samantha, who, lured by the promise of promotion, heads into the Canadian wilderness to solve the mystery of a plane that’s gone down while carrying twelve million dollars. While there, she stumbles across the isolated cabin of Doc Kovac (Harry Hamlin), a mysterious mountain man who initially seems amiable and accommodating but quickly serves as a reminder that first impressions can be deceiving…

From the outset, it would be tempting to shrug The Hunted off as your standard bait-and-switch survivalist thriller which you can watch biro in hand, ticking off the cliché checklist on your lap. Thankfully, Ives and Cohen’s script is more nuanced than that, and it skirts across themes of morality, trauma and recovery, framed by the contest of a strong independent woman facing off against a predatorial man.

You would think Amick would be tired of being chased through the undergrowth, given the fact that she was fresh from Richard Martin’s excellent woodland revenge feature Wounded (1997), but no, she’s terrific here, and ably supported by the dimple-chinned Hamlin. Painted up and suckin’ on a stogie, the former L.A Law star is perfect as the primeval psycho, referring continually to his surroundings as “my mountain” and recounting ancient tales of tradition and superstition as if they were biblical teachings.

Director Stuart Cooper had hit a career high almost a quarter of a century prior to this with the stunning British war film Overlord (1975). The small screen had been a good friend of his since then, and The Hunted certainly shows no sign of a filmmaker slumming it. Capturing the gorgeous Canadian landscape and weaving lush, shadowy compositions throughout its running time, Cooper injects The Hunted with an undeniable cinematic flavour – aided in no small part by Curtis Petersen, who’s arguably the hardest working cinematographer in the business with a string of direct-to-video humdingers to his name, TC 2000 (1993), No Contest (1995), and a bunch of Damian Lee pictures among them.

Premiering on the USA Network on 4th February 1998, The Hunted was the first of two collaborations that year for director Cooper and co-scripter Cohen, who later went on to make Chameleon (1998) for The United Paramount Network (UPN). It was produced by Colleen Nystedt’s New City Productions: a Vancouver-based outfit that Nystedt founded after spending several years as a freelance location manager and line producer on films like The Accused (1988) and Fear (1996).

USA ● 1998 ● Thriller, TVM ● 92mins

Harry Hamlin, Mädchen Amick, Hannes Jaenicke, Terence Kelly ● Dir. Stuart Cooper ● Wri. Bennett Cohen, David Ives

[1] Theatre Review; Mere Mortals and Others by Peter Marks, The New York Times, 13th May 1997

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