Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof
Producer: Jason Blum, Damon Lindelof
Stars: Ike Barinholtz, Betty Gilpin, Amy Madigan, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Hilary Swank, Sturgill Simpson, Reed Birney, Steve Coulter, Wayne Duvall, Glenn Howerton
Enraged over an internet conspiracy theory, a group of wealthy elites kidnaps and hunts twelve people they deem to be deplorable.
¡°The Hunt¡¯s¡± reputation precedes it. When word got out about the satirical social thriller¡¯s premise, which involves wealthy elites hunting human ¡°deplorables¡± for sport, conservative channels eagerly erupted in damning criticism. Quotes calling the movie ¡°a sick murder fantasy,¡± ¡°demented and evil,¡± and insisting it was ¡°designed to stoke division in the country¡± can be found all over the theatrical poster like ironic film festival laurels cheekily commemorating the controversy.
Naturally, none of the people making these claims had seen the movie. If they had, they might regrettably realize that Blue State liberals occupy positions of ivory tower villainy while working class regulars from Red States are set up as unfairly targeted heroes, albeit hotheaded and misinformed. That dynamic makes ¡°The Hunt¡± the exact opposite of what many irate comments mistakenly assumed would be a macabre celebration of POTUS 45 supporters getting their MAGA hats blown off.
¡°The Hunt¡± doesn¡¯t discriminate. In its weird world, the Reds and Blues are on even footing in terms of pros and cons, with each faction featuring far more of the latter than the former. Although the hunters are coldly callous, caviar-eating snoots, the hunted are prone to rash recklessness online and in person, and predisposed to prejudice as a means of self-preservation.
In an interview, screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof clarified that they ¡°didn¡¯t set out to make some statement or write something conspiratorial or political.¡± They wanted to craft something ¡°fun and entertaining¡± that ¡°touched on some of the themes of the real world moments we¡¯re all experiencing.¡±
Touch on indeed. Cuse and Lindelof¡¯s script turns common social media sound bites into conversational quips. Polarizing terms fill in dialogue in between. ¡°The Hunt¡± makes sure to reference cultural appropriation, crisis actors, Deep State, cucks, ¡°those people,¡± climate change, ¡°stand your ground,¡± forwarding inaccurate emails to 50 people, arguing over rights granted by constitutional amendments, and more. You can practically picture Cuse and Lindelof watching a day¡¯s worth of ¡®Fox and Friends¡¯ before taking to Twitter to fill out a checklist of popular triggers. The movie only misses a scene of stumbling into a Russian troll farm where computer banks operate Facebook bots and the collection of Trump Era topics would be complete.
Here¡¯s the thing though: ¡°The Hunt¡± says all of these words without saying much of anything at all. Mentions get made, often only as punchlines, and then the movie moves on. In the film¡¯s quickened quest to equally jab at both left and right-wingers under the umbrella of black comedy and outrageous action, not rocking any particular boat declaws the bluster of buzzwords. And without picking a side to sarcastically skewer, ¡°The Hunt¡± can¡¯t slash as cuttingly clever commentary that will compel anyone to meaningfully examine toxic behavior, media mistrust, or the escalating absurdity of a post-truth environment.
That¡¯s good news for anyone whose furnace burns hot over the very notion of entertainment being perceived as politicized. That¡¯s bad news if you¡¯re bored of ¡°Most Dangerous Game¡± riffs and would rather see subtext with sharper bite.
Quirky music does more heavy lifting to sell the air of dark satire than hollowly snarky dialogue does. Explosive gore puts in the work too. One death where a woman gets impaled in a spike pit before being half-exploded by a grenade earns its Fangoria cover as a bloody FX all-timer. ¡°The Hunt¡± also gets good mileage out of the Janet Leigh trick by offing a couple of bigger names early and in surprising fashion. Fiction stays fantastical thanks to nearly nonstop action getting an over-the-top edge from sudden gushes of gruesomeness.
Betty Gilpin leads that charge by continuing to break bigger since her standout role on Netflix¡¯s ¡°Glow.¡± She¡¯s awesome to watch as Crystal, the only member of the hunted with the smarts and the skills to stay calm, cunning, and kick constant ass. Never once exhibiting an inkling of ¡°damsel in distress,¡± Gilpin plays Crystal to appear almost nonchalantly annoyed at having to continually outsmart and outfight adversaries who aren¡¯t prepared for her badassery. Forget how good she is with gunplay and fisticuffs. Her resourceful role-play tricks and ability to survive on the fly rivals Bond and Bourne to fashion a charismatically cool-headed heroine.
Even though she¡¯s saddled with some standard monologue baggage, Hilary Swank makes the most of her limited minutes and takes ¡°The Hunt¡¯s¡± tongue-in-cheek attitude to heart to make a sharp ringleader for the hunters. I wish she shared more of the screen with Gilpin, since they are the movie¡¯s most powerful magnets. The film mostly tosses them together for a physical faceoff that, stunt-filled spectacular though it may be, goes on too long as the climax tries topping each stage in their fight with one exhausting exchange after another.
In between the good news/bad news mentioned above, what¡¯s left over is an okay thriller spiked with a couple of crazy kills, a terrific lead, and occasional laughs worth an involuntary little ¡°hmph.¡± Cursory theming definitely dates it though, so I don¡¯t expect to see ¡°The Hunt¡± remain timely once 2020 turns over.
To say it more succinctly, see ¡°The Hunt¡± for its slaughter, slight streak of wicked humor, and to enjoy Betty Gilpin toying with and tearing through people while barely breaking a sweat. Don¡¯t see it for takeaway substance, because that¡¯s only superficially there.
Review Score: 60