Onyx reviews: Hunted
Past Reason by Richard Matheson
Two men set out for a three-day hike through the California national forest.
Bob is a successful novelist and screenwriter. He has asked Doug, an actor and
survival expert, to take him on this trek as research for a book he intends to
write. Doug's acting career is on the slide, consisting mostly of TV commercials
and bit parts. He and his model wife have divorced, their teenage son a victim
of drug addiction.
From the very beginning, Doug is less than gracious toward Bob. His voice drips
with sarcasm as he surveys what Bob has brought for the trip. Though coached by
Doug on what to get, Bob suspects that his friend has been deliberately vague in
some areas. Doug calls him "Bobby," which Bob hates, and the two argue
about virtually everything they discuss.
After the first day, they turn off the trail and head across country. Already
far out of his comfort zone, Bob is now completely in Doug's hands. His life
depends on Doug getting them to the cabin where Bob's wife waits. Every muscle
in his body aches. He has blisters, abrasions and cuts from several minor
mishaps in the early going. It seems that Doug is trying to make this as
difficult and miserable as possible.
At this point, Matheson takes an uncomfortable walk through the woods and turns
it into The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon crossed with Deliverance. Doug's carefully
worn mask slips further and further until he no longer needs to hide his hatred
of Bob and his successes. The hike becomes a game of survival. After a
particularly unpleasant argument, Doug gives Bob a three-hour head start. If Bob
can make it to the cabin ahead of Doug, he'll let him live. Otherwise he intends
to catch Bob, kill him, scatter his body for the wild animals to destroy and
then show up at the cabin, distraught, anguished to console and seduce his
For good measure, Doug assaults Bob brutally before casting him adrift in the
endless forest. It's a game for Doug—he provides Bob with whatever he wants to
take with him for provisions. He even gives Bob their only compass and
directions on how to get to the cabin. He's seen Bob's performance over the past
two days. He knows how much of an advantage he has over his helpless companion.
Matheson has written such diverse stories as A Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May
Come, I Am Legend (filmed as Omega Man), and the memorable TV movie
stories tend to be claustrophobic and insular. One man against the elements or
another man. In Hunted Past Reason (a line from King Lear), Bob must fight both
nature and an insane man determined to kill him. His frenzied flight through the
woods brings him face to face with mountain lions, scorpions, rattlesnakes and
bears, but none of these are as potentially lethal as Doug. The difference is:
the wild animals bear Bob no ill will.
Matheson is a grand master of suspense, characterization and prolonged passages
of terror. Many younger writers count him among their strongest influences.
While Hunted is perhaps not destined to be a classic on the order of The
Incredible Shrinking Man, it is a gripping, relentless narrative in which Bob's
philosophical view of the universe is tested time and time again. It is
virtually impossible to put down because no sooner does Bob survive one obstacle
then Matheson thrusts him into another.
Though the basic premise is familiar, what sets this "man vs. man in the
wild" thriller apart is Matheson's deep insight into the psyche of both
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