Rating: Three Stars
It’s a bit confusing and troubling when the bulk of a film’s marketing campaign focuses on all the controversy it’s caused. Isn’t that kind of like a TV commercial for a restaurant boasting, “Look at all of our customers who have gotten diarrhea?”
“The Hunt” proudly declares itself “the most talked about movie of the year” on its poster, and it has indeed caused a stir. Several conservative outlets criticized the film’s politically charged premise, and its September 2019 release was delayed following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
So instead, the movie’s being screened during a contentious presidential election and an international pandemic. Good call.
Based very loosely on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Hunt” chronicles a group of liberal elites hunting conservative citizens for sport.
The game results in effortless slaughtering, but a woman named Crystal (Betty Gilpin) manages to evade every trap the Democrats layout for her.
And her conveniently keen survival skills and vague backstory mean she just might have what it takes to be the cookie-cutter slasher hero we need.
To the movie’s credit, it rarely takes itself too seriously, and the best scenes come when director Craig Zobel (“Compliance”) fully embraces a sense of self-awareness. The unrealistic gore is spared from eye rolls thanks to some solid comedic timing and the sheer absurdity of seeing, for instance, a woman acting normally after being impaled and having her legs blown off.
Gilpin adds to the sadistic merriment by playing Crystal with complete mental instability, even when reciting the most mundane lines. She looks like at least five things are going on in her head at once, making her at-first bland character spring to life.
But then, like a disruptive uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner that was going perfectly well before, “The Hunt” decides to bring up politics.
It’s then that the clumsy script, uninspired cinematography and over-acting from the supporting cast become harder to forgive, and the audience realizes that they aren’t watching the intelligent, shocking piece of propaganda the trailers promised.
We’re shown the “deplorables” ranting about exposing crisis actors in refugee camps and the “snowflakes” reminding each other about their unchecked privilege. There are no jokes or witty one-liners written around this behavior. We’re expected to just laugh and shake our heads at these oh-so-wacky hijinks that are too easy of targets to muster a response on their own. And when almost every character is a stereotype manufactured to further the satire and do nothing else, the whole experience feels empty.
Also empty is the ending, which just barely ties into the themes that Zobel’s been hinting at and doesn’t even leave us with a clear message other than, “Political polarization is a thing that exists” We’re not provided with a solution or alternative to all of this fighting; we’re simply being told what we already know.
But if you care nothing about the political undertones and are just looking for a campy slasher flick, “The Hunt” will suit you just fine.
Those searching for something deeper should consult Connell’s story, which packs more social commentary into a handful of pages than this movie does in 90 minutes.
Personally, the silly gore and Gilpin’s uncomfortably long, blank stares were good enough for me.
"Th Hunt" has been released early on streaming services in wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. As far as movies to watch in self-quarantine go, you could do a lot worse.