The Hunt needs no introduction by now. The political satire of liberal elites hunting conservative folks for sport was always going to attract controversy under the current political climate. Suffice to say that when Universal canceled the release of the Blumhouse production last year- this turned into a whole different ball game. Given the current state of world affairs, any studio would get cold feet on releasing such material. Moviegoers of all kinds rebutted with the push for the freedom of speech and crucial divide between artistic fiction and reality. What was supposed to be released last September will finally reach the masses on the timely date of this Friday the 13. The conversation this film has sparked between artistic liberty and the cultural effects of cinema is not ending any time soon- for better and worse.
The film’s plot tries to be not as simple as leftist elites hunting right-winged casuals. There are a few twists and turns that keep the premise alive until the credits roll, but The Hunt is not as layered as many might assume. The script penned by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse (scribes behind The Leftovers) in truth operates as a fiendish self-aware internet troll. The film strives to be as centrist as possible, of course under the circumstances of innocent humans being murdered. Both the left and the right are up for roasting and the result is honestly something that is not nearly as insulting or dangerous as the controversy implied.
This best works as a nonchalant poke at US political norms from frequent collaborators Lindelof, Cuse, and director Craig Zobell (Compliance). For the audience, this is an hour and a half of kicking back to simply enjoy bloody satire. This is not a call for violence, nor a dehumanization of leftist or right-sided thinking. It wants to be good old fashion escapism and mostly succeeds. However, given not only the context but also the talent involved- one wishes it strived to be so much more. At most, one could say that the message or moral behind The Hunt is that all kinds of far-sided political devotion create villainy. This much is clear from the humor and plot, but it does not get much further than a very timely notion.
It would be unfair to judge this work for not being something it is not trying to be. The movie is not really attempting to break down any insight or solution to far-sided politics. It just wants to have gory fun while saving time to troll in between, which is fine. Given the insane state of the world, one cannot help but feel like this concept and thematics could have gone so much further. None of the satire or escapism would have been traded in; cinema can keep these elements while also finding much more to say for the worth of the viewer’s time.
Now for what the film is trying to achieve- it roughly gets halfway there. Much like the internet trolls that The Hunt takes inspiration from, it is 50/50 when sticking the humor’s landing. When a bit or line delivers, it really stands out. When something fails to land, it can be more excruciatingly not funny. Much of the weight is carried by the delightful cast. Even if these roles could be considered glorified cameos, they overall help get the job done. Ike Barinholtz (Blockers), Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl), Emma Roberts (American Horror Story), and Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) all create some memorability.
Though Betty Gilpin (Glow) and Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) carry the majority of the film on their backs. The absurd commitment from Gilpin and Swank will be enough even for the naysayers to stay in their seats until the lights go up. Without them, the film is much less likely to barely stand firm. The gore and violence get zany and many will be very pleased, but all of that would falter at the cost of poor leads. The Hunt is sure to find its cult audience and Zobell, Lindelof, and Cuse have Gilpin and Swank to thank that for.
Not nearly as controversial as it may seem, the film is still nevertheless playing an intricate role in the modern discussion between the cultural effects of cinema and the use of satire. Good on Universal to distribute the film and let moviegoers have these discussions and make decisions for themselves. Though the film limping to the finish line, ironically both in quality and distribution, makes one ponder of what could have been under different creative hands. The more than likely scenario is that The Hunt is going to fall under the category of films that are more interesting to talk about than to actually watch.