The Hunt, 2020.
Directed by Craig Zobel.
Starring Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts, J. C. MacKenzie, Hilary Swank, Justin Hartley, Ethan Suplee, Macon Blair, Glenn Howerton, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan, Teri Wyble, Wayne Duvall, Sylvia Grace Crim, Steve Coulter, Reed Birney, Christopher Berry, Kate Nowlin, Dean J. West, Vince Pisani, and Sturgill Simpson.
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.
Before actually diving into The Hunt let’s just address the elephant (or in this case, the pig) in the room; there is nothing at all controversial or dangerous in this oftentimes on-the-nose but still amusing simultaneous takedown of hardcore conservatives and ultra woke liberals. To even come to the conclusion that The Hunt is a movie that should have ever been banned would require an astounding amount of stupidity, or simply for one to be the current President of the United States.
The Hunt is not even a movie that requires thinking. Actually, one of director Craig Zobel’s more effective creative choices is the simplicity that comes with setting up the game (if you are not informed, it essentially boils down to elite liberals hunting lower-class conservatives for murder sport), which is a series of text messages from a group conversation encompassing everything from leftists sending immature videos to bashing Donald Trump to gleefully switching the subject to the impending deadly game.
From there, the audience is dropped right into the thick of things (aside from a small detour aboard a private jet used for the sole purpose of carrying the drugged passengers/participants from around the world before letting them loose in an undisclosed location that could either be Arkansas or another country entirely or maybe even somewhere else). Individuals begin waking up only to find a sizable crate filled with heavy artillery intended for self-defense (apparently the right-wingers are seen to be deserving of a chance for survival), quickly scattering and going their separate ways as we are taken from one introductory segment to another (if you didn’t know Betty Gilpin plays the protagonist coming into the movie, you can’t be blamed for not knowing when the movie starts considering it makes a case for a couple of main characters before finally switching perspectives once and for all, but not without strangely giving Ike Barinholtz first billing within the ending credits).
With that said, even as The Hunt was struggling to find its footing, there’s amusement to be found from snappy and occasionally smart dialogue (there’s a great exchange early on regarding gun-control, and later on a terrific joke not directed at but involving Ava DuVernay). More surprising (and as far as one could ever take the so-called controversy) is just how graphically violent the whole endeavor is from the get-go, sometimes needlessly dipping into unnecessary cruelty (one of the unwilling contestants is impaled on a spike only to escape and eventually get blown up while landing back on the same spikes, and it’s all just a bit too much for one death considering the audience is meant to be on the side of the hunted). On the other hand, it does make the brisk 89-minute running time come packed with a relentless mean-streak of moderately entertaining death.
A few things are learned as the film centers its focus on Crystal (Betty Gilpin); nothing that any supporting character says or does is true (this causes the first two acts to feel overly predictable even if the situations are shifting and the circumstances are ever-evolving), and the far more frustrating issue of writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse not having enough of a backbone to give its lead character any problematic traits herself. If anything, she seems to get annoyed by her partners’ frequency to go off about deep state conspiracies and racist tirades. There’s a reason behind all of this, but it comes at the cost of adding any real controversy to the film. The Hunt is a politically charged satire that doesn’t have the gall to commit full force with a conservative protagonist containing a spotty moral compass. That’s not to say her character has to be played for endless jokes like the company surrounding her, as she can still be a likable Southern-fried badass (and trust me, Buddy Gilpin has some outstanding melee moments here) with red marks on either her past or current self.
What wins The Hunt a recommendation (aside from Betty Gilpin’s resourcefulness and capability of slaughtering anyone that comes for her) is a revelation that switches up things that are known so far about the political warfare. The surprise also sparks Craig Zobel’s interest, as he shoots the final battle with excellent choreography spanning a lengthy fight, continuously throwing physics and believability out the window as it viscerally progresses (the movie itself never has any regard for depicting wounds realistically, and the decision is proven worth it for the climax). The Hunt doesn’t actually add to political discourse in any meaningful way, but it’s a harmlessly grotesque bloodbath elevated by a fierce and physical performance from Betty Gilpin.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com