You don’t need to wait for the next season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” or the future it foretells to get a taste of what the global right wing patriarchy has in mind for women. Plunge into the “honor killing” Islamic present of “AV: The Hunt,” a Turkish thriller that could be set anywhere this primitive practice still takes place.
It’s a bracing, damning indictment of a world where women have no bodily autonomy wrapped in a visceral, on-the-lam chase thriller in which every man our heroine meets is not just an existential threat, but a real one.
From rude, intrusive questions implying “Know your place, woman,” to overt threats, a Brotherhood of Man are in league to oppress, catch, abuse, punish and kill Ayse as she tries to escape the small city she’s fled for the supposed anonymity and cosmopolitanism of Istanbul.
Ayse, given a “Kill Bill” fierceness by Billur Melis Koç, has screwed up. She’s been cheating on her brutish husband with a feckless fireman. Husband Sedat (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) busts in on them. Making matters worse, he’s a cop who goes completely off the deep end at this betrayal. He kills the fireman, and Ayse, injuring herself in the escape, barely gets out of their seedy love nest with her life, if not her clothes.
We don’t get the feeling that Sedat’s psychotic behavior is accepted and even normalized until we see Ayse get a little help from a friend, and hear the same counsel repeated in every desperate phone call to female relatives that she makes.
“We told you this would happen,” in Turkish with English subtitles. “You dug a hole for yourself…You knew this would happen…You have to bear it like everyone else.“
Grabbing cash and car keys from her parents’ house reveals how far this judgment extends. Her own family’s men try to stop her, by any means necessary.
She makes her getaway, the first of many, but her quest seems impossible. A traffic stop or a bus stop, male strangers or relatives, an entire culture is hellbent on taking Ayse out, or aiding Sedat in doing that.
Director and co-writer Emre Kay (“Tales from Kars”) serves up one suspenseful scene after another — Ayse stopped for not having her license on her, an older cop lecturing her, taking her into custody, evading her questions about his over-the-top civil rights violations, Ayse eying his gun, where he put her car keys, where his keys are.
All of which culminates in a literal hunt in a forest, a young woman whose own father and family seem determined to see her dead rather than let her get away with “shaming” them.
The escapes, chases and fights — with fists, headbutts, rocks, knives and guns — are expertly set-up, played-out and concluded. Koç doesn’t just look a bit like Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill.” She could play her sister if she learns how to use a samurai sword.
We’re never allowed to settle back and assume we have this film’s ending figured out. Ayse is in peril, first scene to last, in a film that doesn’t waste a single one of its 86 minutes.
“AV: The Hunt” isn’t overt in its politics, but it’s easy to read them into the movie. The “secular state” isn’t as secular as it once was, and maybe never was to the degree Turkey has long boasted to the world. “Conservative” leaders pandering to “fundamentalists” have seen to that.
If you think “Handmaid’s Tale” is just a futuristic dystopia political pundits are warning you about via the actions of the American and international far right, here’s a slap-in-the-face reminder that it’s not the future. For many women, it’s a hellish present.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Billur Melis Koç, Ahmet Rifat Sungar, Adam Bay, Yagiz Can
Credits: Directed by Emre Akay, scripted by Emre Akay and Deniz Cuylan
Running time: 1:26