By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank and Emma Roberts
Directed by Craig Zobel
Written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse
So we’re finally reaching the point where THE HUNT can actually be judged on its own merits, rather than supposition. First it was Trump and online conservatives railing against it as a liberal hatefest; more recently, others have assailed it for apparently making liberals the villains. As it turns out, both sides attacking THE HUNT as one-sided ideological propaganda are wrong; the film drops bombs on either side of the political fence, skewering both opposing points of view with equal vigor and bloody glee.
No doubt there will be some onlookers who won’t see it that way, and will only view it through the prism of their own convictions, which is inevitable whenever a film pushes as many hot buttons as THE HUNT does. But genre fans can simply enjoy it as a vividly turned-out horror-thriller that takes advantage of the current sociopolitical situation to add a relevant dimension to the time-honored MOST DANGEROUS GAME human-hunting scenario.
The division of political attitudes in the script by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse is evident right from the start, as we’re privy to a group text conversation that begins with a reference to the “ratfucker-in-chief” and continues to a suggestion that they get together for the purpose of “slaughtering a dozen deplorables.” What follows seems, for a little while, to be squarely on the side of those victimized “deplorables”–a GET OUT for Red Staters. An assortment of strangers wake up in a wooded area with gags locked around their mouths, and converge around a large crate containing both the key to those restraints and an assortment of weapons. Before they can even fully assess the situation, bullets and arrows begin flying, and they soon figure out that they’re the quarry in a human safari.
The most familiar face among the running targets is Emma Roberts, playing a young woman billed only as “Yoga Pants.” The amusing nomenclature in the credits–Wayne Duvall plays “Don???”, Ethan Suplee is “(Shut the Fuck Up) Gary” and so on–echoes the movie’s theme that our social media-fueled society encourages judgement by our surface appearances or what we momentarily say to the world, rather than who we truly are. One of the few characters whose name we learn is Crystal (Betty Gilpin, giving a formidable performance), who proves to be the most unexpectedly capable of taking care of herself. As she and other survivors of the initial assault attempt to make their way to safety, THE HUNT builds delicious suspense from the questions of how they can evade their heavily armed enemies, and who can be trusted along the way. (The trailer appears below as a formality, but don’t watch it if you want to fully preserve the film’s surprises.)
Director Craig Zobel previously explored questions of authority and power in the excruciatingly tense COMPLIANCE, which was largely set in a fast-food restaurant, and here he proves equally adept at tightening the screws in a more open environment. The tension frequently pays off in startling explosions of bloody damage, with strong makeup effects by Jason Collins and Michael McCarty of Autonomous F/X. All the while, the movie also flings barbs at the viewpoints of both the elites and the working-class prey, touching on all manner of talking points and not letting anyone off the hook. Both sides have their own prejudices, sometimes expressed in an on-the-nose manner, but feeding into the movie’s message that the problem with the world is not one party or political stance or the other, but what can happen when they use those allegiances and convictions as excuses for, well, deplorable actions.
The filmmakers’ perspective becomes particularly pronounced toward the end, when we learn the cause-and-effect behind the hunt, which pointedly taps into the way victimization has changed in the modern technological world. And the final scene puts a perfect capper on a movie that, as much as it showcases extreme behavior driven by intractable beliefs, presents a world in which the line between classes, points of view, etc. is not as sharply defined as some people might believe.