Director: Craig Zobel | Screenwriter: Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof | Cast: Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Hilary Swank | Distributor: Universal Pictures | Running Time: 89 min. | MPAA Rating: R
In a time of political divisiveness, The Hunt more or less aims to be the South Park of social horror. It has no greater ambition to say something overt about the world in its cavalcade of gore and tension. The film would sadly rather stew in the extreme lunacy of the bitter discourse than offer anything insightful to the conversation. The result is a messy satire that has all the intelligence of an edgy teenager with all the broad strokes of an aged codger.
The film aims to make fun of both sides and in order for any of that to work, it must go to extremes as vicious as the gore. Every Democrat is a wealthy wasp that uses causes as cred while every conservative is a paranoid conspiracy rambler of Jews controlling the media and refugees being crisis actors. In this scenario, a collective of the stuffy liberals have kidnapped an assortment of conservatives to hunt for sport. They drug them, fly them out to a field, give them a few weapons and the hunt is on. Violence and twists ensue.
I’ll give the film some credit for toying with perspective. Obviously, we’re following the prey of this picture as the hero, contrary to what conservatives in 2019 were complaining about this film since they have apparently never seen a dystopian battle royale picture before. But who exactly was following is not made clear instantly as we shift to different characters when they die abruptly and surprisingly. Soon, the film settles on Crystal (Betty Gilpin) as our badass prey aiming to take the fight to the predators. A lot of credit goes to Gilpin for making what little of this picture work. She has all the makings of an action hero, able to hold an expression and deliver knock-down, drag-out fights with great gusto.
Sadly, Gilpin must comply with a script that does her no favors. In her first shining moment, she outsmarts a couple trying to deceive her. Her ability to get the jump on her attackers and deliver a shotgun blast to their face is sublime, but it is ruined by her one-liner about cigarette prices. One would think given her mostly mute performance that she’d be the straight man in all this, the one conservative not babbling in social media buzzwords. She’s a different kind of crazy, however, as revealed in the scene where she starts to suspect she can’t trust anyone. She relays a story to her survival comrade about the tortoise and the hare, only it ends with the hare killing the tortoises whole family. Her comrade asks what the point of that story was and who they are meant to represent. Gilpin doesn’t have an answer, merely giving nervous titters and humming, as though her sanity is slowly slipping trying to figure out this whole plot.
In a way, you can emphasize with her character because once the great twist is revealed about why they’re hunted, it lacks any punch. It says nothing. Moreover, it doubles down on misreading stories and ups the ante of aimless commentary by kinda-sorta calling out cancel culture. Why must a film be this frustratingly fruitless in its political commentary all for the sake of watching Gilpin and Hilary Swank have a sweet battle of kicks, punches, knives and shattering glass?
The Hunt is a film built to appeal to the nihilistic centrist. For the outsider who takes more pleasure in laughing at politics than taking any notice of it, this film delivers exactly what they want, where conservatives and liberals are on an equal playing field of satire. But that satire is built upon memes, never once elaborating on the nature of how their wrong-headed thinking is more detrimental than helpful. There are flaws to both side but this film merely wants to turn the ramblings of the far-left and the far-right into a buzzword soup of humor. The joke in the film isn’t that stuffy liberals stress climate change yet don’t adhere to actions that could alleviate the issue; the joke is that they care about climate change. The joke isn’t that conservatives believe in crisis actors because they have taken bad advice and consumed conspiracy theorists; the joke is that they believe in crisis actors. Except, no, wait, the film presents this theory as correct in one scene! So is the film more embracing of what conservatives believe the world to be more than liberals? It’s hard to say with a film so obsessed with being provocative than having anything to say with that provocation. Personally, I’m not all that cool with placing people who believe in climate change in the same camp as those who believe in refugee crisis actors. If both sides are wrong as they are presented in this film, then we need not care about the issue. And the issue does become a target when so little of the wrongheadedness behind spewing this Reddit-written dialogue is more from the words than the actions behind them.
I really want to love The Hunt because there are some stellar action sequences and Gilpin is such a marvel in those physical moments. But once those fight scenes end, the film contorts back into a hip-with-the-memes script that is all sorts of cringe. The only good thing that can come from this movie is that Gilpin will have a more fruitful career in action pictures that she rightfully deserves.