Review: The Hunt (2020)

Director: Craig Zobel

Stars: Betty Gilpin, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts

George Orwell’s most famous works of fiction followed grim dystopian ideas through to their horrible, logical conclusions. In the process of putting these nightmares to paper, one wonders if Orwell didn’t give a few people some ideas along the way. It’s a notion that is openly provoked throughout The Hunt (Director Craig Zobel working with his former The Leftovers collaborators Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse). There’s even a pig named Orwell here, while references to Animal Farm abound.

The frequency of mass shootings in North America at the tail end of 2019 led to postponement of this Blumhouse picture (making this their third to be released within three weeks). Even Trump weighed in on the matter with his usual blowhard cadence. Now that we’re all petrified of something else, The Hunt rolls belatedly into multiplexes perceived to have been abandoned in the COVID-19 furore.

(Very) loosely adapted from Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game (the famed source of inspiration for the Zodiac killer), The Hunt stars Betty Gilpin as Crystal, one of a number of right-wing American citizens abducted to an Eastern European country so that the liberal elite can hunt them for sport. Yes, you read that correctly. Cuse and Lindelof have placed an arsenal of weapons in the hands of well-off lefties eager to shake off that ‘snowflake’ moniker and unleash some rage on those they so vehemently feel are beneath them.

The Hunt has not been well received. Perhaps there’s been a sense-of-humour failure in some of its more prickly critics. Yes, it gamely mocks the delicacies of modern ‘liberalism’, in which poorly-chosen phrasing can lead to immediate exile (ah, cancel culture). The film’s very dismissal might even argue its own point for it. It’s as though The Hunt itself had been cancelled. And yes, many may wish it had been.

You know what? I had a blast. And I’m a card-carrying liberal snowflake. But I’m also a glutton for high-concept and trashy B-movies. This one may talk big, but it’s glorified trash underneath and I am there for it.

This is schlocky, silly, ultra-violent anarchy. In a manner not too dissimilar to Wes Craven’s Scre4m, it begins with a slew of misdirects before landing on Gilpin’s Crystal as its anchor. We’re given little information about her upfront, save for the knowledge that she can handle herself in a crisis. Gilpin has been bubbling under the mainstream for a little while, doing stellar work in television (GLOW, for instance). It’s great seeing her take a role like this and really create some fire with it. Crystal is a shade different from your standard ‘final girl’. There’s an element of Erin from You’re Next about her (one of this writer’s favourites), but mixed in with something a little more unhinged. She’s capable, but also strung out and tired. We find out she saw some shit in Afghanistan. We’re not surprised.

The movie careens through its clipped 90 minutes. It’s a runner, but it flounders at times for a clear direction, as a sequence involving immigrants and a checkpoint seems to evidence. Yet, with this litter cast aside for a moment, what remains is firmly tongue-in-cheek and eager to get down to (bloody) business. The writing of this piece was likely sandwiched between finishing The Leftovers and starting Watchmen, and it must’ve acted as a palette cleanser for Lindelof and Cuse; a chance to make light of issues of extremism while still having something (convoluted) to say about them. Sandwiched between two wrought documents on how we live now, The Hunt sees these earnest creatives blowing off steam. Some of the dialogue is knowingly dumb, while at other times the labored speechifying might even be read as these writers mocking themselves.

The suggestion that liberals are to blame for the world’s ills is, I think, not what Zobel and co had in mind, but its easy to see how some might reach that conclusion. Flipping ideological expectations is one thing, but The Hunt feels as though it has stockpiled double-negatives as a result and maybe it’s intended message has been lost in the confusion. It isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, or who’s left and who’s right; rather it’s about not seeing the limitations of your own argument, regardless of which side of the fence you’re standing. It’s about a culture of wanting to win above all else, where having the final say is everything, and how online bickering never helps anybody.

Zobel pilfers a few camera techniques from Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, frames his well-choreographed fight scenes with aplomb and lets the evident humour of the piece speak for itself. The film keeps one casting choice back like it’s a twist (a strange decision in the age of Google and imdb), while it uses others to its own advantage. And hey, you get to see Ethan Suplee feebly chasing after a train again. Ten years on from Unstoppable and not everything has changed.



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