A Wounded Fawn (2022)
Directed by Travis Stevens
Screenplay by Stevens & Nathan Faudree
Starring Sarah Lind, Josh Ruben, Malin barr, Katie Kuang, Laksmi Priyah Hedemark, Tanya Everett, & Marshall Taylor Thurman.
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
Between Girl on the Third Floor, (to some degree) Jakob’s Wife, and now A Wounded Fawn, Travis Stevens is cornering the market on the ‘terrible men fuck around and find out genre.’ In A Wounded Fawn, a man named Bruce (Josh Ruben) is caught between the beauty of art and the bloodshed of serial murder. He takes his hopeful next victim on a weekend getaway, after lulling her into dating complacency. There, he plans to kill her. But there’s something far more existential going on, and Bruce eventually comes to realise he’s going to face a reckoning for his horrible crimes against women.
Stevens certainly doesn’t hold anything back in A Wounded Fawn, which, for some, may be a detriment, however, when a serial killer film embraces a spirit of hatefulness towards the killer and uses mythology to do it, then why hold back at all? The Erinyes (otherwise known as the Furies) take the spotlight in the story, embodying the collective rage of women at the brutal misogyny of a man like Bruce who preys on women. The screenplay, co-written by Stevens and Nathan Faudree, pulls from art and literature across history, most importantly the Eumenides by the Ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, from which the film’s title is derived. What results is an at-times darkly comic and quite often surreal horror film about an awful man finally having to confront the consequences of his life’s violent actions.
“I’ve learned not to absolve
a man for his transgressions
From the very beginning of A Wounded Fawn, art and women are juxtaposed in a couple of important ways that play into the film’s major theme, the misogyny of men. An early scene briefly depicts men staring at laughing women in an art gallery, their eyes judging the women’s behaviour as much as the women’s bodies. It’s here Stevens juxtaposes art and women, in the minds of men, best, illustrating how men see women like art in that they perceive women 1) as objects and 2) as objects to be judged. An early line—”Because they see something beautiful and they want it“—perfectly captures how men objectify women, as a thing of aesthetic beauty rather than a living, breathing human; Bruce later refers to “a new collection” of women/victims. The first couple scenes set the film’s tone well, before we actually see the lengths to which Bruce’s misogyny goes.
The whole film revolves around its parallels with Greek mythology, and there’s a sense of intellectualism about every piece of Stevens’s cinematic puzzle. Even Bruce’s next victim, Meredith (Sarah Lind), becomes a kind of antithesis to Bruce himself; she tells him about her academic thesis on “Deconstructing the myth of the Muse” and “the erasure of female artists.” While a bit on the nose, Bruce murders a woman in one of the first few scenes so he can steal a statue, The Wrath of the Erinyes, which depicts Orestes experiencing revenge at the hands of the mythological Furies. We also see the famous painting Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguerean (1862) featured prominently. This all sets a stage, for those familiar with Greek mythology, on which we anticipate to see a tale of revenge. Yet it’s the way Stevens goes about depicting that tale that foregoes any sense of predictability.
After Bruce starts in on his latest victim Meredith, his life turns upside down when a head injury blurs the lines between what is/isn’t reality. Enter: the Furies. Stevens embraces the surrealism by never 100% revealing to us whether the Furies are actual supernatural forces, or whether all of Bruce’s experiences past this point are just visions from a damaged, guilty brain. Nevertheless, Bruce effectively takes on the role of Orestes, and the Furies, as the spirits of his previous victims, bring revenge down upon him as punishment for his serial violence against women. This is where Aeschylus’s Eumenides becomes a big part of the film, as the Furies deliver lines straight from his text, such as “Enter the chorus of Furies questing like hounds,” and “Like to some hound that hunts a wounded fawn.” There’s even a moment where Bruce quotes the Bible from John 1:14 concerning God becoming man, except he’s talking about women. This contrasts Greek mythology and the Bible, and though there’s plenty of patriarchal nonsense in Greek mythology there’s also a lot of female agency, unlike the Bible. Plus, it’s Greek myth that catches up with Bruce in the end, anyway.
Despite A Wounded Fawn flying off wonderfully into surreal, fantasy-like visions emanating from the cracks in a serial killer’s skull, the film retains a beating human heart, quite literally. In one sequence, the Red Owl—likely a symbol of Bruce’s uncontrollable rage, as red owls in dreams often symbolise anger—is dissected by a couple Gothic surgeons and there is an anthropomorphised organ beneath, like the human urges buried deep within the scapegoat of the owl.
And, in the end, regardless of whether the Furies are actual supernatural apparitions, Bruce still faces very (corpo)real consequences for his actions when he finally kills himself in a fit of psychotic madness, though he does continue to blame his murderous tendencies on the Red Owl rather than actually take responsibility for what he’s done. Stevens’s film is Greek mythology synthesised into a disturbing, surreal psychological metaphor about the violent weight of guilt. The film seems to suggest that even if horrible men face no legal consequences they will, at the very least, hopefully face their own conscience someday, in some shape or form, and hopefully it hurts.