A Wounded Fawn opens with a quote from Leonora Carrington about the sudden realisation of her embodied vulnerability – and later we will see a copy of Susan L. Aberth’s book Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art (2010), while a (long-dead) character (Katie Kuang) from the film’s backstory also shares Carrington’s forename. It is not hard to see why this surrealist artist and feminist should be given such a prominent place in a film that also foregrounds art, feminism and surrealism.
The first narrative sequence shows the auction for a Hellenistic statuette depicting Orestes under attack from the three Erinyes, or Furies – the terrifying female agents of divine justice and vengeance famously staged as the chorus of Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy closer The Eumenides.
Bruce Ernst (Josh Ruben) finds himself outbid for the item by Kate Horna (Malin Barr), and then, unable to let go of a pretty thing when he sees one, insinuates himself with a much higher offer into Kate’s luxury home, where he murders her with a metal claw, taking the statuette for himself. For Bruce is both larcenous collector and serial killer, performing his acts of violence against women as ritualistic sacrifices to the anthropoid Red Owl (Marshal Taylor Thurman) in his head.
“I’ve learned not to absolve a man for his transgressions against me,” Meredith Tanning (Sarah Lind) tells her therapist (Nikki James). Recovering from the trauma of a three-year-long relationship with an abusive partner, Meredith is now ready to ‘get laid’ again, much to the approval of her two female colleagues (Laksmi Priyah Hedemark, Tanya Everett), as they chat in the museum gallery where they work together, their status as a female trio reflected by the numerous paintings of the Erinyes decorating the walls around them.
Meredith’s date, though, is Bruce, and as he drives her to his remote woodland retreat, and shows off its art-laden modernist interiors (including that stolen statuette of the Furies, which Meredith immediately recognises), the red flags, natural and supernatural, start being raised, and our increasingly panicked heroine finds herself playing both victim and vindictive agent in a clash of myths and a tragic scenario of the mind, Meanwhile Bruce will come to resemble his namesake Bruce Campbell’s best known character facing one bloodily nightmarish punishment after another in this cabin in the woods.
Co-written with Nathan Faudree, this third feature from writer/director Travis Stevens recalls his first, The Girl on the Third Floor (2019), as once again a man falls prey to his own toxic masculinity and a history of misogyny.
Told in two acts, this dreamily irrational tale of sin, denial and self-torment sees art and legend coming to life, as three Furies rise again to harry and haunt their wounded victim. The emerging surrealism of these nightmares in a damaged brain certainly justifies the repeat references to Carrington, even as the three principal characters share their surnames with the surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst (a genuine couple) and Kati Horna, all of whose imagery also permeates the film’s second act (another bidder at the auction, played by Leandro Taub, also bears a name, Marcel Champ, that roughly evokes a key figure in the conceptual art of the early twentieth century).
Much as Orestes was hounded by the Erinyes for murdering his own mother, Bruce insists on referring to Meredith by the overfamiliar hypocoristic Mer, carefully pronounced to sound like the French word for ‘mother’, mère. For here art is realised, reimagined and weaponised in a new telling of ancient myth, as a statue becomes a moving picture of feminine vengeance.
A Wounded Fawn had its international première at FrightFest 2022, and is coming to Shudder later this year. Find more SciFiNow reviews here.