Travis Stevens crafts a potent, phantasmagorical fable
The fateful invitation to a cabin in the woods. It’s a familiar beginning for many a horror film, but Travis Stevens uses this jumping off point for an enthralling descent into madness and mysticism. Museum curator Meredith (Sarah Lind) is finally ready to take another chance at a relationship. After an abusive end to her last one, the disarming Bruce (Josh Ruben) has charmed and disarmed her enough to whisk her away to his rustic retreat. Meredith is disconcerted by a number of red flags as they approach their destination, and further perturbed by ominous voices, and a glimpse of a mysterious female figure, once they arrive at the cabin. Her suspicions are solidified when she makes a connection between a sculpture in Brad’s home, and a missing art buyer. The piece depicts Tisiphone, Alecto and Megaera, aka the Erinyes. Three Furies, mythical figures long associated with retribution against liars, thieves, and murderers. Meredith’s epiphany causes Bruce’s plans to fall apart, and after a blow to his head, so do the walls in his mind. Setting him on course for a reckoning with these entities he seems to revere.
After his directorial debut, The Girl on the Third Floor, Travis Stevens (working here with co-writer Nathan Faudree) again returns to a dive into the darkness of man. A potent opener doesn’t just deliver an effective introduction to the Greek mythology woven into the fabric of the film, but also to the real Bruce. Or at least a dark part of him. A man with warped obsessions and a bubbling undercurrent of misogyny, haunted by a mysterious figure called the Red Owl, that drives him to prey on women. A first act tees up a potent and stylish psychological thriller, before the second embraces a Greco-Pagan nightmare. Myth becomes manifest as a swirl of ethereal forces seek to draw this man’s darkness into the light and mete out justice for his acts.
Visually stylish, Fawn delivers seedy and sumptuous images reminiscent of ‘70s Giallo fare. Lurid reds, art-deco features, and a thick lacquer of grain comes from the film stock used during shooting. Cinematographer Ksusha Genenfeld uses the darkness of the cabin’s surroundings and interiors to superb effect. The brooding imagery, sense of foreboding, and harsh, discomforting violence occasionally give way to a sense of fun, with Stevens game to roll out some horror tropes, and even toy with more farcical elements. Between this and Pearl, we have two films this year that deliver a hilarious and yet deeply relevant sequence laid over the end credits. Practical effects from puppets to gore add tangibility, which also comes from the ornate costume design of Erik Bergrin. The score by Vaaal (Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying) coupled to effective sound design, is the final piece to lock down this discordant affair.
Lind is captivating as Meredith; bringing an endearing quality to her through a channeling of strength and vulnerability. A needed bedrock for a film of this ilk. Ruben infuses Bruce with a multitude of unsettling layers. Words and smooth talk that reek of practice. Evasive mannerisms and small inflections or responses that give a hint as to his true nature. Something increasingly apparent as control and power is stripped away from him, leaving him exposed, where no amount of evasion, lies, or gaslighting can save him. It’s in this tribunal that A Wounded Fawn drives home its core truth. That the strength so often perceived in some men, and the dominance they seek to assert over women, comes from a need to mask an ugly weakness within.