The Hunt was almost never on. Initially set for release in September of last year, the film was halted with no release date seemingly in sight, as a result of recent mass shootings and a negative storm of press seemingly sparked by Donald Trump calling into question the film’s alleged portrait of ‘liberal elites’ hunting ‘redneck’ individuals. After allowing the storm to die down, Universal and Blumhouse relaunched the campaign with a sooner than expected March release date and a marketing campaign that grappled directly with the Twitter controversy and played up the satirical nature of the film. So, now the real question is: is it worth all that fuss?
When 12 strangers wake up in a clearing with no idea how or why they are there, they quickly realise that they are in fact being hunted by a group of rich liberal elites, a group that has been rumoured to exist online and appears now to actually exist. The tables turn on the elites, however, when one of the strangers proves to be harder to handle than they initially anticipated.
The Hunt is not a film that is out to offend either liberals or more conservative individuals; it’s going after both of them with pretty equal glee. It’s hard to say it’s even attacking any one camp as well, as it is all simply too silly and daft to be taken all that seriously as a political commentary. If anything, Trump supporters were far too quick to judge as it is more critical of the liberal elite than it is the everyday people side of its equation. But, much like the similarly ‘controversial’ The Interview a few years ago, there’s nothing here that is all that incendiary, with much of the satire being quite broad, occasionally clever, but largely feeling as though the jokes and jibes have been concocted after a quick scroll through a Twitter feed.
Where its satire is more successful is in laying out all the contradictions of each side’s point of view, and particularly how generalisations from both sides lead to more confusion and chaos. The film at points successfully draws our attention to the fact that we only need to listen a bit more to what other people have to say while expressing ourselves and our viewpoints, but people are far too often preoccupied with winning a fight by being the loudest voice in the room or on the newsfeed (or, in this case, carrying the biggest gun). The satirical elements can still be a little clumsy, but there’s something amidst all the blood-splattered mayhem that’s calling for a conversation that’s more considerate and open-minded to opinions from both sides of the scale.
The film is most successful, however, as an action-comedy than it is anything else. It has a great deal of fun playing with audience expectation when it comes to its characters, with a cartoonish approach to splatter gore and anarchic violence that makes pretty much all the action scenes shocking in a humorously jet black fashion, as well as packing a solid scrappy punch during the more hand to hand fight scenes.
Much of why the comedy beats work amidst the action is down to the ace that the film holds up its sleeve in the form of its lead, Betty Gilpin. The Glow star is fantastic as Crystal, a Mississippian drawn into the action and who brings the fight to her pursuers with plenty of attitude and a collection of tics and wide-eyed facial expressions that give her character a great deal of personality, with Crystal always feeling like she’s teetering on the edge of insanity. In fact, the whole cast fare very well across the whole thing, with Hilary Swank also clearly enjoying herself in the closest thing that this film has to a big bad (and it’s all kinds of fun to see Glenn Howerton basically play an amped-up version of It’s Always Sunny’s Dennis on the big screen).
The Hunt may not be incendiary enough to warrant all the fuss that it has caused, but that is no fault of the film itself. It stands as a slice of bloody, pulpy B-movie fun, with a silly sense of humour, a fairly well-balanced approach to satire and an absolutely killer star turn from Betty Gilpin. You may wonder what all the fuss is about, but if you can drop off that baggage, there’s a great deal of schlocky bang for your buck to be had whilst out on The Hunt.
Dir: Craig Zobel
Scr: Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof
Cast: Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank, Glenn Howerton
Prd: Jason Blum, Damon Lindelof
DOP: Darran Tiernan
Music: Nathan Barr
Country: United States
Runtime: 90 min
The Hunt is out in cinemas from today.