Justin Lockwood says A Wounded Fawn is a disappointing commentary on abuse and toxic masculinity.
The Shudder Original production, A Wounded Fawn, the third film from director Travis Stephens (Jakob’s Wife), starts promisingly. After a fun introduction about a mythological statue and the fierce bidding war over it, we follow successful buyer Kate (Malin Barr) home, where she celebrates with a record and a glass of wine. Her relaxation is interrupted by rival buyer Bruce (Josh Ruben, Werewolves Within), who claims his client is prepared to offer a considerable counter offer. After Kate lets him inside her place, Bruce savagely murders her—compelled by a vision of a shadowy Owl-like figure.
We’re then introduced to Meredith (Sarah Lind, Wolf Cop), a woman slowly recovering from an abusive relationship with the help of her therapist and girlfriends. She tells her pals she’s off to a weekend retreat with her new beau. Bruce is the man in question—and as he and Meredith reach his remote cabin, red flags begin piling up alongside odd supernatural occurrences. Meredith realizes she’s in peril, and her survival instincts switch on.
It’s a great setup, aided immeasurably by Lind’s terrific performance. Ruben is fine as the sinister and pathetic Bruce, but Lind is the real standout here. There’s a scene in which she prepares herself to face Bruce, adopts a “calm” face, then emerges from the bathroom and cautiously navigates the cabin. Her wordless performance here is fantastic. Then, mythological creatures emerge, using Meredith, Kate, and Bruce’s previous victim Leonora (Katie Kuang) as avatars to face off against Bruce and the Owl Man. The film then promptly goes off the rails.
The nasty aftermath of the assault on Meredith is so unpleasant it took me out of the movie for a time. Meredith does gain the upper hand, but the avatar conceit forces her to spend the rest of the runtime under a mask. It’s a waste of a great actor and character. The whole mythological angle is never sufficiently explained, nor whether there were genuinely supernatural elements or if it was all a figment of Bruce’s imagination. The ambiguity of that sort can work beautifully in a film, but it feels lazy and unfocused here.
The film features excellent, goopy makeup effects by Ashley K. Thomas and oddball visuals. I wished the movie had more of those and less ponderous severe dialogue. While I certainly appreciated the commentary on abuse and toxic masculinity, it’s delivered with the subtlety of a dropping anvil. If Stephens wanted to tackle these female-centric issues, and that’s admirable, he would have done well to bring on a female co-writer or consultant. The fact that the screenplay is credited to him and another male writer, Nathan Faudree, probably goes a long way towards explaining why A Wounded Fawn is an unsatisfying and disappointing take on these concerns.
A Wounded Fawn world premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 11, 2022. The Shudder Original will premiere on the streaming platform later this year.