A Wounded Fawn Review: A Highly Artistic Horror Freak Show [Fantastic Fest]

Travis Stevens' "A Wounded Fawn" is unlike anything I've seen all year, and that's always something that gets my attention. I see a lot of movies (it's the job!), so when something comes along that feels different, I take notice. While the film may remind you of others (like the recent "Fresh," for example), it's told in such a unique way, with such a singular voice, that I couldn't help but be impressed. Through in some gorgeous, grainy 16mm footage, and you've got a stew going. 

In a prologue, we meet art broker Bruce Ernst (indie horror mainstay Josh Ruben), who is bidding on a very rare sculpture. Bruce ultimately loses the bidding to Kate (Malin Barr), another broker. And later, he shows up at her house with an offer she can't refuse: a ton of money if she'll hand the sculpture over to him. She agrees and invites him in, at which point we learn he has ulterior motives: sliding a unique bladed device onto his hand, Bruce proceeds to brutally kill Kate. 

Cut to sometime later, we're introduced to Meredith (Sarah Lind), a museum curator who is about to go away for the weekend with a guy she's been seeing. You can probably guess who the guy is — it's Bruce, who seems charming and goofy when he picks Meredith up to drive her to a secluded cabin. "Cabin" is probably a misnomer since the place turns out to be a huge, well-decorated, ultra-modern space. And as the hours of the first night of the weekend tick on, Meredith stats to grow uneasy. Every now and then, Bruce will let his mask of kindness slip and seem harsh. Even worse, Meredith starts spotting spooky stuff lurking in the shadows and darkness outside the cabin. Bruce shrugs it off, and maybe Meredith's imagination is running away with her.

But maybe not. 

Never follow Josh Ruben to a second location

Since both the main characters work in the art world, Stevens' loads his film with strange, trippy, artistic imagery — bird people; occult-like figures; doll-like masks. It all increases the terrifying atmosphere — when characters (I won't say who, I'm not a spoiler-monster) start seeing the artistic nightmare imagery, it all feels so incredibly strange, so incredibly different, that I was taken aback. Enhanced by the deliberately grainy 16mm footage, "A Wounded Fawn" is a visual treat.

Ruben makes for a unique combination of protagonist and antagonist. The majority of the film is from his POV, which means we're stuck with him as our main character even though we know he's a serial killer. We find ourselves both feeling a tinge of sympathy for the character while also hoping he gets his just, bloody rewards. I'll confess I was not a fan of Steven's previous film, the somewhat similarly-themed "Girl on the Third Floor." But "A Wounded Fawn" is a huge leap forward for the filmmaker; the proof that he's the real deal, and that he has a unique voice in the world of indie horror. 

As the world of "A Wounded Fawn" grows increasingly stranger, increasingly horrifying, I was enamored by the nightmare of it all. Again, the storyline might feel similar to other titles you've seen, but I assure you that the film itself is wholly unique and wonderfully disturbing. And the lesson couldn't be more clear: don't follow Josh Ruben to a second location, because nothing good is going to come of that.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10