“Pursued” shows promise but fails to deliver serious thrills or campy fun, languishing in the uninspired limbo between suspense and slasher.
The latest film from Jeffrey Obrow, director of the 80s slasher classic The Dorm that Dripped Blood, was one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in some time — primarily because of how promising it initially seemed.
The film boasts some respectable star power, a director known for his mean-spirited slasher contribution to the infamous video nasty list, and an intriguing premise about a teenage girl who stalks her mom’s new boyfriend online only to accidentally cross paths with a dangerous serial killer of the same name.
Among the veteran actors featured in the film, we have the excellent Sam Trammell (True Blood), Paul Sorvino, Angus Macfadyen (Braveheart, Saw III), and Molly Ringwald. The latter gets top billing, and I was eager to see her shine in a genre film. But fair warning, she’s barely in the film as she is used as little more than a plot device.
The film made its World Premiere at the inaugural Make Believe Seattle film festival dedicated to genre programming. It’s a festival boasting an impressive lineup, so my hopes were high for this viewing.
Unfortunately, much like the film’s heroine, PURSUED seems to make the worst, most inexplicable decisions at every turn.
The film begins by establishing the tragic backstory of seventeen-year-old Lark (Madison Lawler). After arguing with her mom (Molly Ringwald) and dad (Shawn Christian), she sneaks out to attend a party. Sadly, her dad gets into a fatal car crash while trying to pick her up in the pouring rain and bring her back home. Two years later, mom is dating another man, and the two are going away for the weekend together.
Worried about her mom, Lark calls up a friend who happens to be an excellent hacker and asks him to do a little digging into the boyfriend, Mark Franc.
Lark’s friend informs her that, armed with only a name, he has found a private dating service online where a man with the same name as her mom’s boyfriend is actively harassing a woman. He gives Lark access to log in and view the very dark and disturbing conversation.
This is the first point where Obrow asks you to suspend disbelief, but certainly not the last.
The woman being harassed is Sarah Kent. Lark decides to put on her junior detective hat and begin digging into the woman’s background. She finds her Facebook profile. Some concerned messages from family members hint at Kent’s potential disappearance. It amounts to razor-thin connective threads.
But, for some reason, Lark makes it her mission to figure out who this Sarah Kent is and precisely what happened to her.
Then, in the craziest scene imaginable, our scary villain, Mark Franc (Angus Macfadyen), is introduced by eating his pet tarantula alive after the spider bit him and sent him into a rage.
In another film, one that fully embraced camp, this could have been a fun little WTF scene that tuned us into the tone of the film. But this is a movie that actually takes itself seriously, and scenes like this feel out of place and asinine.
Soon, Lark’s hacker friend informs her that they found the body of a murdered local girl. Her teeth are missing, and her fingerprints have been burned off. Obviously, Lark is sure the body belongs to Sarah.
Even though we just watched Lark attend a graduation party, she is still in school. Her favorite teacher, Jack (Sam Trammell), is apparently a guidance counselor with an unexplained background in law enforcement and a fake badge. She finds him hanging out on the student lawn drinking from a flask. It’s coffee, he assures her. Ok, he confesses, Irish coffee.
Oh, I get it; he’s the “cool” teacher. I suppose that explains why she randomly asks him to help her solve a murder case.
Jack takes Lark to the morgue to see if she can identify the unknown victim’s body. She knows from Sarah’s Facebook that she has a tattoo on her ankle. Somehow, the two con their way into being able to view the body. And sure enough, the body is Sarah.
Instead of telling the police, her brilliant plan is to create a fake profile on the dating site she hacked earlier and try to lure the serial killer out.
In order to set up a profile, she needs a credit card, and it must match the name on the profile. What’s a girl to do? What she does is steal the identity of her mom’s assistant, Vanessa. She has Vanessa’s credit card information because she keeps the books for her mom’s business for some reason. And, because Vanessa “owes her one,” she rationalizes that this is all totally fine.
Using Vanessa’s name, she messages Mark and tells him she knows what he did and he needs to turn himself in.
Who could suspect where this is headed? Oh, wait… everyone.
I will stop there and tell you that, from here on out, it only goes further off the rails as it hurtles toward its “climactic” showdown.
This includes one of the craziest Deus Ex Machinas of all time involving a group of MMA fighters.
At one point, after repeatedly getting involved with increasingly disturbing shenanigans, Jack channels the audience’s rage and scolds Lark. “Do you know how many stupid things you’ve done in the past 48 hours?” Of course, that doesn’t stop him from continuing to aid and abet the nonsense.
Literally, nothing in this film makes any sense. It’s also, most regrettably, a slog to get through. Overly long at about an hour and 45 minutes, a leaner, tight cut could have helped enhance the tension and make viewing feel less tedious.
The final ending is dull and predictable, offering precious little emotional payoff.
Macfadyun as Mark is excellent and, honestly, far and away the best part of this film. But he’s also written as such a one-note, over-the-top villain that even his strong acting chops can’t keep this film from devolving into tedium.
Ultimately, this doesn’t feel like a cohesive film but rather a series of scenes that happen without explanation and with no work done to build ample tension, suspense, or atmosphere. Character deaths fall flat because we aren’t given enough to fully invest in them or care about what happens to them.
Had the film leaned heavily into cheesy, ’80s-inspired slasher sleaze or sharply veered more into a tense cat-and-mouse thriller, I would have been equally invested. Instead, it tries to straddle the line between the two and fails to succeed at being either fun or genuinely tense and surprising.