Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Hunt (2020)

Directed by: Craig Zobel
Notable cast: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts

The Most Dangerous Game, as a genre archetype has always been used as a metaphor for class divide as long as the story has existed. The bored rich hunting a downtrodden, but clever, human being makes for extremely compelling bones to any story. This has found great success in films as diverse as Surviving The Game, featuring an unforgettable Ice T performance and hairdo, to the generic but fun 90s Van Damme actioner Hard Target, to the insane and cartoonish John Leguizamo vehicle The Pest. There is something inherently compelling about the idea of hunting a thinking person, which I believe relates to motivation. Michael Meyers is scary because you never understand the motivation, the rich hunting the poor out of boredom? That’s scary because it’s so mundane. We’ve all been bored, and we’ve all imagined what we’d do with infinite resources, so there is something inherently dark about coming to the “hunting human beings” conclusion.

Another thing that must be mentioned before getting into this movie proper is its strange journey to the theater, or On Demand, as it were. The Hunt was supposed to get a reasonably low-key release in August of 2019, but owing to a couple of high-profile mass shootings and open attacks from several political figures it was shelved. In a reasonably astute marketing move, Blumhouse leaned into this event with the marketing, calling it “the most talked-about movie that no one’s seen.” This is an incredible marketing coup, but honestly? The movie is a political satire, and it does play up current political discourse thematically and metaphorically, but it’s not as inflammatory as it even believes itself to be, much less enough to justify the hoopla around it. Regardless, if this movie ever does attain some modern classic notability, the controversy will definitely be what it is remembered for.

All that aside, what is actually on screen? Well, rumor has it a bunch of super-rich liberal elites have been kidnapping “deplorables” then hunting and killing them. Naturally, several strongly opinionated right-leaning folk wake in a field, with a cornucopia of weapons in the middle, and realize that this conspiracy theory seems to be a full-on reality when a few of them are taken out immediately by an unseen sniper. This is actually the movie at its best: darkly funny, very surprising, and violent. Gory even. It’s a lot of fun and, depending on your personal politics, even kind of cathartic. This movie is overtly political commentary so if you’ve ever wanted to see a bunch of 2nd amendment evangelists get shot while thinking they’re gun-toting badasses that could fully body any liberal… well, that’s definitely in here.

 Unfortunately, it doesn’t maintain that rebellious energy for long, as we finally settle into our proper main character, Betty Gilpin’s Crystal, who is ex-military, quiet, reserved. The Hunt definitely treads some familiar territory at this point, as we realize the true breadth of the conspiracy and its true motivations. The movie remains funny, but the surprises, violence and initial gut-punch of intensity are never quite realized again. The threat doesn’t feel as pressing as it needs to, and the final fight is borderline silly, given the previous exposition. Although I did enjoy this movie and don’t want to take the wind out of its sails too harshly, when it’s inevitably playing on television one day, it’s definitely a “watch the first half, do chores during the second” kind of film. Like Sharky’s Machine. Have I dated myself? What was it, forgotten Burt Reynold’s classic Sharky’s Machine, or the concept of watching movies on TV? I digress.

There is a lot to like about The Hunt, it’s well-paced, the acting is actually really great, and like I said, it comes out of the gate like greased lightning. However, it smooths out into a fairly generic dark comedy thriller that’s fairly predictable if you’re familiar with the story archetype. Definitely worth a rental, though maybe not at its full current price.

Written By Sean Caylor

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