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Peter (Vince Pisani), Athena (Hilary Swank), Liberty (Teri Wyble) and Kelly (Hannah Alline) in The Hunt, directed by Craig Zobel.

Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Unive/Universal Pictures

  • The Hunt
  • Directed by Craig Zobel
  • Written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof
  • Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank and Ike Barinholtz
  • Classification R; 89 minutes

rating

2.5 out of 4 stars

The Hunt is more or less as originally pitched: A group of ultrasensitive progressives have kidnapped an assortment of red-state stereotypes, let them loose on a vast property in a mysterious location, and set about to track them.

Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Unive/Universal Pictures

Remember the halcyon days when the Western world was worried about the explosive public-health danger of … a mid-budget movie starring Hilary Swank? Last summer, the cultural conversation seemed to revolve, at least for one early-August news cycle, around an allegedly damn-near incendiary thriller called The Hunt.

After the film’s marketing – in which producers pitched a black comedy about U.S. liberal elites hunting GOP-flavoured “deplorables” for sport – caught the eye of Fox News, and then Donald Trump (“Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate!” the U.S. President tweeted, displaying the sincerity of his disgust via the use of idiosyncratic capitalization), Universal Pictures announced that the movie would not open Sept. 27 as planned. Cue outrage from all corners, a good deal of it arriving with a strong whiff of manufacturing.

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Either Universal decided that Trump’s MAGA acolytes have short memories (hmm), that the political winds have shifted (umm), or that the entire shuffle was an opportunity formed from crisis (a crisitunity, perhaps) – for whatever reason, the air is now clear for The Hunt to finally hit theatres just as the world is becoming distracted by something actually deserving of the worry.

So: Was it all worth the fuss?

Most of the 'deplorables' here are characterized solely by their affinity for guns.

Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Unive/Universal Pictures

Of course not. What movie from the house of genre megaproducer Jason Blum (Insidious, Paranormal Activity) could be? Although that doesn’t make director Craig Zobel’s film entirely disposable.

Without tripping over spoilers like so many of The Hunt’s characters stumble over land mines and through buried spikes, I feel it is safe to report that the film is more or less as originally pitched: A group of ultrasensitive progressives, led by Swank’s venture capitalist or what-have-you (the script is never clear as to her source of super-wealth), have kidnapped an assortment of red-state stereotypes, let them loose on a vast property in a mysterious location, and set about to track them like the dogs of America that they are. There is the tough army veteran (Betty Gilpin, elevating the entire thing), the conspiracy-theory podcaster (Ethan Suplee), the lily-white Ivanka wannabe (Emma Roberts), the gun nut (Ike Barinholtz), the other gun nut (Wayne Duvall) … actually, most of the “deplorables” here are characterized solely by their affinity for guns. Be more liberal with your imagination, you movie-producing snowflakes!

What follows is tremendously gory. Have you ever wanted to see just how gross our eyeball sockets can be? Good news! – but metaphorically bloodless. There are a thousand different, subversive ways to approach The Hunt’s conceit – an opportunity to mock both virtue signalling and conservative groupthink with guts and glory – yet screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof take almost none of them. With the exception of a well-placed Ava DuVernay gag and one very instructive lesson on the power of a bread knife, The Hunt seems like a too obvious and disappointingly safe jab at Our Polarized Times.

The film is tremendously gory.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

The most shocking part of this too-shocking-for-audiences-today production is that Cuse and Lindelof are even involved, given the far smarter and sharper work they did last year on HBO’s Watchmen, which took the carcass of U.S. politics and thoroughly eviscerated it in a new and startling fashion.

Mostly, The Hunt reminded me of what another, far more difficult-to-pin-down filmmaker might have done with the film’s pitch. Someone like, say, S. Craig Zahler, whose past three genre outings (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99 and last year’s Dragged Across Concrete), have dug into the messiness of arch-conservative America with skill, if also an unnerving sympathy and oft-nasty level of vitriol. Or there are the Brazilian collaborators Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles, whose new film Bacurau – out now in select U.S. cities, and set for a Toronto release in a few weeks – takes the hunting-humans-for-sport set-up to stranger, more intoxicating places.

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In the meantime, for those looking for 2020′s Most Dangerous Game, you can always watch The Hunt, or any film, in a crowded movie theatre this weekend. Godspeed, America.

The Hunt opens March 13.

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