Synopsis – Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt.
My Take – Originally set to release last year in September, this Universal and Blumhouse produced action thriller was removed from the slate following President Donald Trump and Internet denizen’s objections to the film’s excessive showcase of violence in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso.
But I guess somewhere we all knew that the delay was due to political reasons, mainly due to its extreme satirical take on the U.S. politics where it represented conservatives as amazingly stupid, uncultured, paranoid, broke, fat, gullible, hate-filled, conspiracy minded and resentful, while the liberals are usually the elitist, smug, self-satisfied, wealthy, contemptuous, humorless, insufferably politically correct and self-righteous. Now that the film has been allowed to see the light of day, I must say, the result is a mixed bag.
Personally, I have no clue about the provocations the film was meant to induce, as I do not possess much knowledge in regards to the general politics of America, but instead I saw this film for what is was – a pulpy and bloody B-film which provides another riff on the 1924 short story ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ but with a clever twist or two later, the film directed by Craig Zobel and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the latter coming off his success with HBO‘s extraordinary ‘Watchmen’, also ends up offering a bit more than dark humor and skull-crunching violence.
However, when it settles down to talk about its confused political leanings, it does get largely tiresome. Making it, as I had always suspected, a not-bad but pretty dumb film that’s elevated by its insane action and some killer performances.
The story follows Crystal (Betty Gilpin), who along with twelve random strangers (which includes Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, and Justin Hartley among others), find themselves waking up in a forest clearing, unsure of what happened or where exactly they are. No sooner do these folks discover a crate full of weapons nearby than all hell breaks loose, as gunfire erupts, heads explode, and arrows rain down.
Realizing they’re being hunted by a group of snooty liberals, led by an Elite ringleader named Athena (Hilary Swank), they all decide to run for their lives. Saying much more about the seemingly outrageous premise is to give too much away.
Right from the first scene, the film is willing to mess with one’s expectations, and like last year’s Ready or Not, it’s also willing to mine America’s fundamental divisions. It’s also happy to put just about everyone in the cross hairs, poking fun at well-meaning but oblivious NPR-listening retirees as readily as pod-casters who rant about conspiracies. While the film is often funny, it’s no way as witty as it needed to be. And it’s determination to mock both sides of the political divide equally flattens the effect.
The film might have been more entertaining if the filmmakers had gone the traditional route and picked one side to back, lobbing out bombs without any concerns. Unfortunately, a lot of this film’s issues can be laid at the foot of the writers, who, despite having a decent idea in hand, don’t really know how to make it work in the moment-to-moment. The film works best when it’s not trying to make jokes about the U.S. politics. If anyone is concerned about the film being right-wing propaganda, it’s not.
While the hunters are indeed loathsome, and self-absorbed, the hunted people are not portrayed as sympathetic with the exception of the main character, instead many of them are shown as bigoted and small-minded. It’s more misanthropic than right wing or left wing. It’s more a metaphor about the ugliness of online culture and the desire of the loudest people of all political stripes to see their enemies destroyed.
However, a few written gags do land quite well, like the moment when a conspiracy theorist and radio host has his worst fears confirmed. As a result, the film only works when it’s a complete shoot-‘em-up mode. With the most enjoyable thing about the film being the wild blood-and-gutsy violence, quite a bit of which is pretty excellent. When the film is leaning into its silly Hunger Games meets Saw gore-fest, it excels. The action scenes are really fun to watch, especially the finale.
It is also suffice to say Betty Gilpin (GLOW) is nothing short of phenomenal. Here, she is capably badass, of course, given the typical war veteran back story, but her quiet mumbles and silent reactions are significantly more interesting than anything else here. This is her film, and she nails every scene, whether it calls for laugh-and-or-cringe-out-loud crowd-pleasing moments or sequences of unexpected subtlety.
In other roles, Hilary Swank seems to be having a blast as one of the hunters, while Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Ethan Suplee, Sturgill Simpson, Amy Madigan and Reed Birney stand out in their smaller roles. On the whole, ‘The Hunt’ is a watchable action horror which excels in its ridiculousness but degrades when it forces down politics.
Directed – Craig Zobel
Rated – R
Run Time – 90 minutes