Exquisitely Crafted Bloodbath
What if they made a movie and nobody watched it? That was the fear when the horror satire The Hunt was scheduled for release last fall before being delayed by a series of unfortunate events. First, it was the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. Then a tweet about the film from our president which stirred outrage amongst conservative media outlets who were ill-advised on the film’s premise that features elite liberals hunting their political rivals for sport. Then came anger from the left when they postulated that liberals were portrayed as villains in the film. All this and no one had even seen the film yet!
The film was practically doomed from the start, but after a six-month-long hiatus, The Hunt finally gets its chance to poke fun at the absurdity of identity politics. And boy does it deliver the goods!
Ironically enough, as it turns out, both sides assailing The Hunt as partisan propaganda were wrong. Both points of view are put squarely in the film’s cross hairs as bullets rip, knives slash, and arrows pierce with bipartisan fervor. Best step aside, lest your own personal leanings become fodder to the logic of insight and tolerance.
Taking on the absurdity of conspiracy theories, partisan politics, and the danger of judging others from first impressions, the satire in The Hunt is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Speaking of sledgehammers, the film is also one of the bloodiest, goriest, and most suspenseful films you’ll ever see with a body count that will certainly get John Wick’s attention. And it’s pretty darn funny too.
Born from the well-worn premise done much better in 1932’s RKO classic The Most Dangerous Game, The Hunt opens as yoga-panted blonde Emma Roberts credited only as Yoga Pants (Get it? They are deplorables, undeserving of names) wakes up to discover she’s been drugged, gagged and dumped in the middle of a rural field along with a dozen or so others.
Beside them is a wooden crate, a crowbar, and a padlock key. As they pry open the crate and use the key to unlock their mouth gags, we wonder if this is all some sort of intricate puzzle. Or is it a trap? Have they signaled the start of some kind of sadistic game? The latter proves true as shots ring out, heads splatter, and arrows pierce torsos. The Hunt is underway!
Writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof borrow from Hitchcock’s Psycho as they immediately kill off, in the bloodiest of fashion, character after character, barely giving us a chance to latch on to anyone. No one is safe, be it from the hail of bullets, fusillade of land mines, or punji stick-laced pits.
Everyone scrambles for cover like cockroaches until we eventually settle on one of the only named characters, Crystal (Betty Gilpin/ Glow), a crafty, clever Southern badass and former military who’s up for the challenge to take on whoever, or whatever, is hunting them for sport. Will her street smarts be enough to get to the bottom of this power face-off? Not if Athena (Hilary Swank) has anything to do with it. The two end up in a final showdown, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen from a pair of femme fatales. It’s red state vs. blue state in the battle royale of the century with winner-take-all stakes.
The Hunt is directed by Craig Zobel who is no novice with socially themed movies, having plied his craft previously on the whip-smart, ripped-from-the-headlines Compliance (2012), and proves equally up to the task here. With elements of a thriller, horror, comedy, and political satire, the degree of difficulty in getting the tone just right goes through the roof with this thing. But Zobel does a bang-up job of balancing the film’s varied elements and themes. He leans into the absurdity of it all while also delivering an expertly crafted bloodbath that will undoubtedly stand the test of time as a cult horror fave.
Also starring Ethan Suplee, Wayne Duvall, Ike Barenholtz, and Amy Madigan, The Hunt is well-acted enough to elevate the story above its gory violence. However, it isn’t necessarily a smart film, nor is it particularly clever with themes, references, and humor that are always over the top and in your face. And that’s kind of the point Cuse and Lindelof are making with the film. In fact, what is more ridiculous and over the top than pre-judging a film even before its release? First impressions are almost always wrong and in this case those preconceived notions got the film’s release pushed back six months. Congratulations!
Throw aside your political leanings and give The Hunt a shot. The Hunt is on!
(Released by Universal and rated “R” by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com