Synopsis: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all…
Immediately inviting comparisons to the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn and Deliverance, The Hunted takes the familiar concept of rural American country folk preying upon the big city slickers and transports it to the Australian outback. While films like Wolf Creek have showcased Australia as a setting for this type of “isolationist horror”, author Gabriel Bergmoser adapts the genre to the novel format and maintains that same sense of terror through the medium of the printed page. As a result, there is a really cinematic feel to The Hunted, which is further enhanced by the lightning-fast pace of the novel and Bergmoser’s quick narrative cuts between characters and situations.
I have lived on the outskirts of London for all my life so I am used to the street lights, concrete roads and decent phone reception, so whenever I have had to venture outside of my comfort zone into the rural wilderness (even somewhere as civilised as Wales), I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy and this novel taps into that feeling of being disconnected and unprotected by civilisation. If you go missing out in the middle of nowhere, no-one is going to be able to find you. The idea that there are people off the grid, living by their own rules is terrifying to those of us that are used to living under the laws of the land. The locals in this story point out how city life softens people up, and I have to agree with them. I wouldn’t know how to cook and skin a rabbit if I was stranded in the wild. I’d be one of the first “pigs” caught in their traps.
Bergmoser’s novel centers on a mysterious girl named Maggie, who is being chased by a village of local hunters. Her arrival at a remote service station results in numerous innocent people being caught in the cross-hairs of a deadly game gone wrong. I don’t want to spoil too much in this review as a lot of the joy of this book is its brutal twists and turns, and Bergmoser wastes no time in getting readers stuck into the action. Despite its fast pace, The Hunted takes the time to develop its lead characters so that you begin rooting for them to succeed despite the overwhelming odds that are stacked against them. I particularly liked Frank, the owner of the roadhouse where most of the action takes place, and whose granddaughter picked the worst possible time to visit. I pictured him as an older version of Crocodile Dundee, world-weary but still handy with a knife.
Bergmoser follows the familiar horror trope of the “final girl” in Maggie, a seemingly vulnerable girl who emerges from this trauma as an unstoppable force of nature. Conjuring up memories of Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and Laurie Strode, Maggie is a terrific protagonist for the novel and despite her grit and determination, she is flawed at times too. It is her actions that ultimately lead to the death and destruction that permeates throughout the novel, although I guess some of the blame should land at the feet of the cannibalistic outback hunters too. Even though they are more of a collective entity than individuals, Bergmoser still manages to create some standout villains from within his group of hunters and if the book ever got brought to life as a film, I’m sure they would be brought to life by a wonderfully quirky ensemble of character actors.
The Hunted is a brutal, violent novel with some unsettling flashes of gore mixed in alongside the heightened tension of the siege between hunted and hunters. The novel borrows all the very best bits from this horror sub-genre, echoing the aforementioned films whilst also maintaining its own identity. Bergmoser mastered the art of the shock death, creating some sudden plot twists that would definitely illicit a jump scare if (or when) the book is adapted for film. There were some moments of stretched credibility at times, and the tone of the novel shifted from horror to action-horror (think Alien versus Aliens) towards the end, but ultimately it was an exhilarating read that lingered in the mind long after the final page was done.
Preying upon that inherent fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and disappearing without a trace, The Hunted is a triumph in “isolationist horror”. Bergmoser’s strong character development and masterful direction of the action results in a tight-knit horror novel that practically begs to be adapted into an indie horror film, whilst the Australian setting infuses the novel with a raw grittiness that elevates the subject matter to new heights. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted, I recommend you hunt down a copy immediately!
Score – ★★★★ ½
The Hunted is available in paperback format from Amazon and all good book stores or as a digital eBook via Amazon Kindle. It is also available as an Audible audiobook, and can be downloaded free as part of its 3-month trial promotion.