The Deadliest Game for political partisans, The Hunt overcomes weak satire with gleeful bloodshed.
The Hunt perhaps gained more fame for constant delays due to America’s gun violence epidemic than it did for any actual controversial content. It’s not so much that the film doesn’t try to have something to say about America’s current dysfunction, but that it what it says largely lands flat.
That being said, how does it fare as a dark comedy/horror thriller? Thanks to a strong lead and a willingness to pulp most of the supporting cast, The Hunt winds up being a schlocky good time…when it’s not wandering through the landmines of Politics 101.
The Hunt (2020)
Twelve strangers wake up in the woods, groggy and gagged. They soon discover a mysterious crate in a clearing, filled to the brim with weaponry. No sooner than they’ve kitted themselves out, a rain of sniper fire begins picking them off. The survivors flee, looking for safety and the reason why they’ve been whisked away to be hunted for sport.
Should Have SAW It Coming…
The premise behind the bloodletting is fairly simple: rich elites kidnap and hunt conservative deplorables. It feels exactly as contrived as it sounds (which side of the political debate is all gung-ho again?) which is why it’s a relief that the film attempts to layer in deeper meaning.
Without going full spoiler, the film begins hinting pretty early that these are not random red state voters. Think of the SAW franchise, where each person is running the gauntlet for a particular reason. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do nearly enough character building for either the reds or the blues for you to really care about this plot line.
Gimme Some Death!
One of the reason the deeper conspiracy plot doesn’t work is because this film loves to murder characters nearly as fast as we meet them. While it winds up letting the air out of the larger story, it does reward the viewer viscerally with lots and lots of cathartic kills, no matter which side you’re pulling for.
There is a wide variety to the kills in The Hunt, which helps keep it fresh and moving at a blistering pace. It’s telling that we see all types of armaments in the crate – pretty much everyone gets the axe in a novel manner.
As this film tends to give with one hand and take with another, all of the variety made me wish that the weapons had some character development tied to them. Perhaps dole them out like Clue, where we can try to draw some biography for why each person gets which weapon.
Instead, the film goes for a technically impressive approach of passing the baton. When one character bites the dust, another is usually handy to see it and usually retrieve their weapon. From there we get a relay race of death. Once again, the film sacrifices story development on the altar of excitement and rapid pacing.
Odd Woman Out.
Once we get far enough along in the murder chain, we finally settle on our protagonist, Crystal (Betty Gilpin). Gilpin really keeps the wheels from flying off this movie. Her character is an enigma, both in-story and from a movie making perspective. She’s emotionally flat, tight-lipped, and guarded. She’s also ten pounds of tough in a nine pound bag. Gilpin rarely tips her hand about what kind of person Crystal is, besides being a survivor, which functions in lieu of complicated character building.
Despite, or perhaps because of this, Crystal works as both an audience power fantasy and an oddly relatable character. She kick’s a ton of ass and takes zero shit, but she’s not a cool action hero. She’s not spitting out one-liners or defying physics to win. She’s just a capable and slightly fatalistic loner who really, really wants a cigarette.
The Hunt overcomes its flaws, but it winds up being a momentary satisfaction that denies a longer enjoyment. Once the roller coaster comes to a halt, there’s not much to think over. The stereotypes of liberals and conservatives veer from cheap caricature to patently nonsensical. A late twist almost brings the satire up to a satisfactory level, but quickly reverses itself. About the deepest idea I had throughout was caused by a throwaway line about how many people we actually saw in the field. Did we miss a survivor?
Despite the facile take on red vs. blue politics, The Hunt does manage to be an engaging action thriller. Director Craig Zobel (Westworld, American Gods) makes clear that in every choice between excitement or story, he’s going excitement. Combined with a strong lead and some zippy camera work, The Hunt keeps the adrenaline flowing enough to deliver gory thrills.