Choose your enemies carefully.
What might have started as a mere online rumor turns nightmarishly true: “liberal elites” kidnapping random “deplorables” to be hunted down (read: murdered) at a secret location known only as “The Manor.” When a dozen drugged individuals awaken to find themselves gagged like animals in an apparent nature preserve, a wooden crate full of weapons is provided as something of a defense against what’s coming — just before the bullets start flying and traps begin going off. Victims quickly drop like flies, and it’s anyone guess who’ll live and who’ll die, but there’s one wild card no one has counted upon that cares very little who you voted for… and the wrong button just got pushed.
You might have heard the controversy about this Universal / Blumhouse production, who delivered an amazing remake of The Invisible Man earlier this year. The Hunt was originally scheduled for September 2019 but postponed indefinitely after two mass shootings called attention to the gratuitous gun violence pitched in the trailer. It also didn’t help that trailers made the film look like a contributor to politically motivated us-vs-them conspiracies that benefit no one. On the eve of a unifying global pandemic surrounding the COVID-19 virus in the real world, is this really the kind of story that needs to be dumped into theaters seemingly to cash in on inflammatory rhetoric masquerading as entertainment?
Surprise! Directed by Craig Zobel and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, The Hunt is an ultra-violent allegory within an allegory where everyone is a target, both literally and literarily. It’s a breakdown of a breakdown, full of people who only hear their own side, “othering” to believe the worst of whomever across any imaginary divide. Progressives, conservatives, political correctness, rich, poor — no target is safe, but the most interesting part is a disinterested character who really just wanted to be left alone and damn well should have been. Paraphrasing from the film: “They’re either smart people being stupid or stupid people who think they’re smart,” so of course they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
In spite of minor plot holes, a few inconsistencies, and one or two points that fail the suspension-of-disbelief test, this explosive bloodfest is equal parts education and entertainment, trimmed to the bone and clever enough not to overstay its welcome. A stage-setting opening sequence unfolds like a intentional budget ripoff of The Hunger Games while playing to tropes to make viewers second-guess the lead characters, wrapping everything up in final speech-before-combat showdown worthy of a Tarantino climax. It’s both satisfying as a self-aware exploitation and an invitation to reconsider relationships both online and in-real-life. The tight running time also plays into the credits themselves — not an after-credit scene but in the actual credits — leaving a few mysteries wonderfully unsolved.
Films inspired by the 1924 Richard Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game” are nothing new; last year’s Ready or Not took a similar tongue-in-cheek approach but without the social commentary. While it would be easy to dismiss this as a cheap thriller intent on making a fast buck, performances by Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank are enough to ask viewers to reconsider that assessment.
The Hunt is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, and shut the f**k up, Gary.
Three skull recommendation out of four
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