There are one or two exceptions, but when a group of people — whether they be government representatives or merely ignorantly concerned citizens — demands some work of art not be made available so as not to offend our delicate sensibilities, the actual art is rarely as charged as the complaints argued. That’s partly because those in favor of banning art do so without having even seen the art in question, but it’s also because too many of us are constantly on the hunt for something to be outraged about. Case in point is the much talked about but little seen The Hunt — far from incendiary, the film is a very funny, over the top violent, and gleefully unsubtle take-down of a particular segment of society, but the target isn’t exactly the one early “reports” made it out to be.
Nearly a dozen strangers awake in a field with gags on and no idea how they got there. A large crate offers up some surprises but few answers, but soon the why becomes less important than staying alive as it’s quickly revealed that someone is trying to kill them. These first few minutes see several of them dispatched in variously gory ways, and as the survivors go looking for safety a common thread between these strangers comes clear — they all seem to be loud-mouthed conservatives. Well, all but one. Mississippi-born Crystal (a gloriously kick-ass Betty Gilpin) is staying pretty tight-lipped as she’s more focused on staying alive, and it’s not long before she discovers that the enemy is a group of loud-mouthed liberals.
And unfortunately for them, she’s less interested in talking than she is in fighting back.
The obscenely reactionary argument against The Hunt before anyone had really even seen the film was so laughably on point with the movie’s actual theme that it wouldn’t surprise to discover that uber producer Jason Blum maybe slipped our current president fifty bucks to bash it on Twitter. On its face, though, while his so-called deplorables do make up the initial victim pool, that appears to make them — as with every other variation on 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game — the heroes of the story. It’s embarrassing enough that the red state mouth-breathers (and painfully empathetic liberals) who complained about the film never realized that, but worse, the fact that they never made a similar case against Blumhouse’s The Purge films targeting mostly lower class/minority victims confirms the hollowness of their rage.
And that desire for outrage to the point of manufacturing it out of thin air is the true target of Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof‘s script. Their knives aren’t out for just one “side” of the political discourse, though, as blue state mouth-breathers with fancy jobs and college educations are obliterated with arguably even more vicious brutality both verbal and physical. The film’s condemning an online culture built on anonymous hatred that’s prone to blind indignation and fury in the form of insults, assumptions, and a disinterest in true human engagement. It’s calling out people on both sides of the current divide who choose, either through ignorance or intentional cruelty, to avoid both empathy towards others and common sense towards the so-called news they digest. “I forwarded it to fifty friends,” says one of the hunted, adding “It’s not like I believed it.” People want terrible things to be true so they have something to take out their anger and despair against, and they want it so bad that sometimes they’re incapable of believing otherwise.
For all of that, though, The Hunt is as far from a serious movie as a movie could be. Cuse, Lindelof, and director Craig Zobel couch their commentary in an immensely entertaining slice of exploitation that’s as heavy on laughs as it is on carnage. The gags and humorous observations come fast and furious in dialogue exchanges between friends and enemies alike, and while a not inconsequential amount of the comedy comes in the form of low hanging fruit and overly obvious jokes — of course someone calls someone a snowflake — enough of it lands to keep a smile on your face throughout. Pop culture references from Ava Duvernay to Tears of the Sun (2003) earn laughs as do exchanges about guns and problematic representation. One of the film’s biggest laughs comes when Crystal shares her version of Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and it’s funny due as much to the writing as it is to Gilpin’s delivery.
Gilpin is the film’s undeniable secret weapon as she once again proves her brilliance in scene after scene. Without her the movie would still be a fun romp, but with her? She’s a mesmerizing and ridiculously fun protagonist who does what more of us should — she listens, observes, and only talks when she has something relevant to say — and those traits are balanced with an ability to turn on a dime towards action. From her numerous kills throughout to a tremendously entertaining face-off against Hilary Swank that reminds of The War of the Roses (1989) even as it feels ultimately fresh, she is a force to be reckoned with. The icing on the Gilpin cake is an expressive performance that includes the occasional wide-eyed reveal of the madness and delight just beneath Crystal’s surface as she almost revels in this opportunity to cut loose.
The action and bloodletting scenes are beautifully executed and more in line with The Purge: Anarchy (2014) than most other Blumhouse productions. A small amount of CG blood mars a few frames, but most of the carnage is practical including a glorious early gag involving a spiked pit. Crystal isn’t fooling around, and when she fights back its with skill and a righteous anger that can’t be denied. Sound design plays a strong role with many of the kills too, and it works to amplify the idea that the film is far more interested in over the top entertainment than in being a message movie.
If you’re offended by The Hunt, then rest assured that the problem is you. The movie is a comically satirical exaggeration of the loudest people on social media, the ones who believe in Pizzagate and the ones who deem all Southerners as racist — the ones who encourage divide at the expense of the truth. But more than that, it’s a very funny action/thriller with a “final girl” who should be a role model to us all… both on and offline.