Think Movies: The Hunt

Think Movies: The Hunt

by Alan Grant
article from Saturday 14, March, 2020

ORIGINALLY MARKETED as a quasi-horror flick, a la its Blumhouse Productions stablemate The PurgeThe Hunt  is a strange little cinematic oddity. Later it was promoted, more accurately, as a violent dark comedy with political ambitions. Caught up in the pre-release period was a controversy around gun violence and political division which managed to draw a disapproving tweet from the President of the United States of America as well as a delay that seemed to stoke more than its earned share of ire and interest. The Hunt ’s period in incubation was, at the very least, interesting. That is not to say that expectations were high… but there was at least an expectation of something. 

Set in the present-day United States, The Hunt  follows a group of wealthy elites, complete with regular checks on privilege and underlying sense of self-loathing, who conspire to capture a group of – well, the movie occasionally uses the word “Deplorables” but we’re talking Trump voters here –and hunt them for sport. 

The main narrative revolves around Crystal, played by Betty Glipin, and her fight, Kill Bill-style, to escape from the titular hunt on her way to confront its villainous leader, Athena, portrayed by Hilary Swank.

As much as the rage and fear that preceded the release of The Hunt  was confusing, it presents a difficult challenge to critics – all of whom appear to have conveniently lined up along party lines – because there is a compelling argument for it doing two different, incompatible, things at the same time.

On one hand, The Hunt  can be read as a genuine film of ideas. Glipin’s Crystal is everything that the MAGA Republican Party fanbase would love. She’s an austere, highly trained, semi-buxom, blonde, Southern gal who can kick ass and quip with the best of them and she hates the liberal elites who had the lack of wisdom to put her in their game to begin with – woe betide them. Taken this way, The Hunt  is a genre non-conforming vengeance movie for the red-capped masses who have their guy in the White House but still feel like they’re the outsiders.

Alternatively, given the right level of self-awareness is attributed to it, The Hunt  could also be seen as an over-the-top mocking satire of politics and the division it attracts, especially in the US. The characters can be read as a series of blown-up caricatures, especially Swank’s Athena, Glipin’s Crystal, and their respective liberal and conservative supporting players and the entire premise of the movie quite possibly has its tongue resting in its cheek.

So, which is it? The Guardian says it’s a satire while Empire says it’s playing pretty straight – who is right? Well, not to sound like every wet, centrist Dad that both sides of politics can’t stand... but it’s more muddled than that. Note that I didn’t say ‘complex’, the word is ‘muddled’.

If The Hunt  was going for a straight political commentary on how awful the elites behind its titular chase are then why would they make each and every one of the “deplorables” so unlikable, one-note, and wooden? Even Crystal, who has the occasional cool thing to do or witty line, comes across as dim and unrelatable. Her fellow hunted participants are similarly unlikable, each one revolving around an unpleasant part of the Trump coalition, whether that be a dislike of immigrants or racist conspiracy theory, are… just so tired, and flat, and one-note, and boring. Here’s a quick bit of advice for creating relatable characters… I shouldn’t be happy to see them being shot in the face or blown up by a grenade. True story.

Alternatively, if The Hunt  is a knowing, screw ‘em all, both sides are terrible, condemnation of all politics via a hyper-violent action comedy then why is it regularly interrupted with serious conversations? The nadir of which involves an exchange between our two main characters about George Orwell’s Animal Farm that is tantamount to someone handing a blood-soaked copy of the novella to the audience with the film’s ‘unique insight’ scrawled on the back cover. I don’t believe the two characters have read it and I’m almost positive that nobody involved in making this picture understands it.

This is the main flaw that ultimately means that The Hunt  just doesn’t work for me. It’s two decent movies turned into a human centipede that is far less than the sum of its parts. It’s unclear whether or not this was an editorial decision or a call made at the production or directing stage but it does give the impression that an argument resulted in a compromise that nobody, including audiences, can really be happy with. 

The lesson to be learned from The Hunt  is a cautionary one – it’s lack of decision about what it is about costs it. The good examples of movies that are ‘about something’, like The Shinning or The Exorcist are clear and unambiguous about what they are about meanwhile the ‘bollocks to this’ cinematic success stories, like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, don’t clog up their runtimes with Thundercats style ‘serious moments’ of lens-gazing mundanity. The Hunt  does neither of these and therefore just comes as a confused and needless waste and is best avoided because of it.

 

 

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