Political edginess of ‘The Hunt’ half as clever as it thinks it is, and even less enjoyable

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 3/20/20

“The Hunt” is social satire made for (and maybe even by) folks who get their news via shared Facebook posts. It’s a monochromatic stab at political edginess, with dialogue written like memes …

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Political edginess of ‘The Hunt’ half as clever as it thinks it is, and even less enjoyable

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Betty Gilpin stars as the heroine in “The Hunt.”
Betty Gilpin stars as the heroine in “The Hunt.”
Photo courtesy of Universal Pict
Posted

“The Hunt” is social satire made for (and maybe even by) folks who get their news via shared Facebook posts. It’s a monochromatic stab at political edginess, with dialogue written like memes and character stereotypes as broad as a 1940s Disney cartoon. It’s smug in its critique of our political divide and reductive in its bothsidesing.

The shame is it didn’t have to be this way. Based very loosely on the 1924 novel “The Most Dangerous Game,” 12 strangers are drugged, dragged and gagged to a remote estate, where they awake, are given firearms and then suddenly blown up by landmines and gunned down by hidden snipers.

As the dwindling survivors begin to converse, their common denominator is that they’re varying right-wing extremists. There’s a fringe podcaster, a big-game hunter, a homophobe, a veteran, a Charlottesville marcher and others. They quickly discern that they’re the prey at an Internet-rumored hunting ground called Manorgate, where liberal elites hunt conservative “deplorables” for sport.

The funny thing is they’re correct. Headed by a mysterious minder named Athena (Hilary Swank), the hunters are limousine liberals hunkered down in a deer blind. They castigate their white privilege and get giddy when Ava DuVernay likes their tweet.

Their bloodlust is both political and personal, however. Without giving too much away, the film posits how, in our online reality, off-color jokes are wielded as cancel-culture weapons and conspiracy theories can become self-fulling prophecies.

Originally scheduled to open in October 2019, its release was delayed after early, largely-uninformed reports about its plot triggered a backlash in conservative circles, including the POTUS. The irony is that the film is fairly anti-liberal, with a heroine who served in the military and hails from Mississippi. It’s a misapprehension that seems to prove the film’s point.

However, the actual plot is still a 30-minute premise that’s dragged out to nearly two hours by director Craig Zobel — whose “Compliance” was a searing, haunting bit of social commentary — and writer Damon Lindelof — who co-created “Lost,” another promising premise that gradually went nowhere and overstayed its welcome.

“The Hunt” could have gone in several different directions, perhaps revealing how political extremists are useful pawns in a larger chessboard run by the wealthy ruling class. It could have aimed for something truly provocative, like a straight-faced attempt to justify all the onscreen awfulness that would have forced viewers to confront their own prejudices.

The lone bright spot is Betty Gilpin as the MS-born Crystal, who brings a lot of sober wit and brashness to this inane setting. She’s also one-half of a closing fistfight that’s both wonderfully staged and goes on so long that you realize the film ran out of things to say. A sharper film would have fleshed out Crystal’s obvious role as the middle majority, folks ready to be rid of the crazies who have co-opted our culture. Instead, we’re left with B-slasher movie effects, eye-rolling on-the-nose references, and a vacuous viewpoint.

“The Hunt” is not half as clever as it thinks it is, and it’s even less enjoyable.

 

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