Originally slated for release last year, bloody survival horror The Hunt was the most talked about film of 2019 even though no one actually saw it. Set to arrive in cinemas in September, the action-packed thriller, which sees rich liberals hunting conservative “deplorables” for sport, was pushed back following the tragic events of the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings the month before. Interestingly, and in completely unrelated news (honest!), the decision came less than a day after Donald Trump had tweeted criticism of the movie’s concept. Always intended as satire, The Hunt did a good job of making its entire commercial team look pretty silly before it even premiered.
Set largely in the Croatian countryside, Damon Lindelof’s gore-filled thriller has a simple yet effective format. 12 strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there, but when bullets start flying past their ears they realise they need to start running. One of the strangers, tough-talking Mississippian Crystal (Glow‘s Betty Gilpin), is more able to defend herself than the others, and she spends the rest of the plot stabbing, shooting, punching and head-butting the “godless elites” that pursue her. For them, this is an annual opportunity to round up some ignorant hicks and butcher them for entertainment. Unfortunately, the film that follows isn’t always entertaining.
Clearly worried about upsetting any part of its audience, writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof make sure to poke fun on both sides of the fence. The hunters are painted as overly-woke poshos, oblivious to the irony of murdering bigots because they have different views to them. While the hunted come across as paranoid dullards, blinded by prejudice. The point is obvious: both sides of the debate are as unbending and hypocritical as the other. But beyond that, The Hunt doesn’t really know what it’s saying. People are… bad? In fact, it falls into some of the same traps as its characters (not the deep ones with spikes in that cause a few casualties, the metaphorical ones).
For example, the ragtag band of right-wingers are a roll call of stereotypes and clichés. There’s the MAGA cap-wearing, plaid shirt-clad grandad; the working class, refugee-denying racist; the ditzy peroxide blonde; and the jock who loves shooting big game. Later, a lazy explanation is given for the stereotypes, but it feels like an afterthought. It’s fine to ridicule people, that’s what satire is for. But when your whole movie is set up as rich vs poor (most of the victims have a southern accent, commonly linked to less-privileged states in the Bible Belt) – and worse still, when you come at the story from the privileged viewpoint of a Hollywood producer or scriptwriter – it starts to look like you’re punching down, rather than up. Always a bad sign.
Ignore the film’s confusing message though, and there’s still some fun to be had. The fight scenes are shot at a thrilling, breakneck pace – and The Hunt‘s frequent twists make sure it’s never predictable. Elsewhere, Betty Gilpin is inspired as ex-con Crystal. Often stuck in supporting parts, the perennial second-stringer has finally been given a lead role. She never looks back. Zipping between po-faced one-liners, the Nurse Jackie star proves herself a worthy action star with some blistering combat moments and enough pin-up chutzpah to deserve her own blockbuster franchise.
Unfortunately, this genre mish-mash quickly runs out of ideas and it all ends in one of the laziest, most creatively deficient finales for years. Seriously, every single person who sees this movie – without exception – should be able to come up with something more engaging than what ends up on screen. Even Donald Trump.
- Director: Craig Zobel
- Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz
- Release date: March 11