VOD film review: The Hunt (2020)
Mark Harrison | On 29, Mar 2020
Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee, Hilary Swank
Here’s a movie that just can’t catch a break. Originally slated for release in September 2019, The Hunt was shelved by Universal in response to a right-wing tantrum that rippled all the way up to President Donald Trump. Ultimately, this controversy powered the Blumhouse film’s recent marketing campaign ahead of its new March release date, which unhappily coincided with the COVID-19 crisis and thus arrived in one of the quietest US box-office weekends since 1995.
But when the auspicious circumstances of its release eventually slide off it, how will a Movie Of The Moment like this stand up? Far from the wilfully divisive flick that was touted, this has been criticised by most reviewers for both-sides-ism in its satirical approach, which feels a bit like reviewing the film the President told us we were gonna see rather than the one that has now been released on premium VOD. Like the later seasons of South Park, the film declares open season on both left and right, caricaturing the extremes of both alignments.
Still, our sympathies lie with the motley group of right-wingers (including Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Justin Hartley, and Ethan Suplee) who wake up gagged and bound in a field in the middle of nowhere. When unseen attackers fire on them, the right-leaning hostages are viscerally reminded of Manorgate, an online conspiracy theory about wealthy liberal elites abducting “ordinary Americans” and hunting them for sport. While the survivors of the initial onslaught scramble for safety, one of their number, Crystal (Betty Gilpin), sets about turning the tables on her kidnappers.
Unsurprisingly, the wealthy liberal elites here (including Hilary Swank, Glenn Howerton, and Reed Birney) are not the good guys – the supposedly left-leaning contingent here offers a more cartoonish version of the Armitage family’s performative hypocrisies in the Blumhouse-produced Get Out. By the same token, the film doesn’t shy away from having some of its imperilled conservatives splutter about snowflakes, crisis actors, and the deep state as they meet grisly fates.
In grappling with presumptive paradoxes of either side, Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse’s screenplay feels very Mad Online, picking out buzzwords for bouts of lip service in between the more enjoyably over-the-top action sequences. Director Craig Zobel previously rendered 90 minutes of incredibly spiky social satire in 2012’s low-budget drama Compliance, so it’s not surprising that this violent thriller is better in its most straightforward moments.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why GLOW’s Betty Gilpin fares so magnificently here as a woman of few words. Her performance is astonishingly physical, whether it’s in fight choreography or her impeccably controlled facial expressions. As embodied by Gilpin, Crystal is equal parts Bruce Campbell and Bugs Bunny, and she does most of the heavy lifting for the ensemble cast.
Inevitably, if you send amazing actresses to the gym to train for three seasons of a Netflix wrestling comedy, one of these superwomen was always going to escape and make a kick-ass action movie between runs. For all its other flaws, The Hunt meets that criteria nicely, but we hope Gilpin gets a bigger breakthrough in years to come.
If you’ve come to the film looking for insight, there’s not much to be had. As an up-to-the-minute battle royale between everyone you’ve muted on Twitter, its politics are closer to pro-wrestling than Question Time, but it’s designed to discuss where we are without being pretentious enough to offer fixes. There’s little about it that you’d call shrewd, but Zobel, Lindelof, and Cuse do understand that whatever else you’d like to project onto a film like this, just making The Cabin in the Woods about real life won’t do anyone any favours.
Boasting plenty of crunchy, visceral action and an all-timer of a breakthrough role for Gilpin, The Hunt embraces farce over satire. In the grand culture war narrative that’s built up around it, it’s little more than an act of mutually assured distraction, served better as a slice of darkly funny mayhem than as a state-of-the-union address.