Bipartisan ideals is the key to tranquility. That may not be intentional, but it is certainly one of the messages relayed by The Hunt, a vicious horror-comedy that serves as a modern update of The Most Dangerous Game. The premise centers on rich liberals kidnapping and terrorizing middle-class conservatives. It’s meant to shock and awe, to hold a satiric light down on America’s divide. But this doesn’t come off as satire, but rather parody. The characters here are not really characters, but politically-singed word generators designed to spout buzzwords in the most awkward of context. To borrow another buzzword, it’s gaslighting without the flame.
Of course, reality has been just as turbulent for The Hunt as it’s central plot. Originally scheduled to arrive in 2019, the release was cancelled in the wake of multiple mass shootings. It finally hit theaters this year, but did so during a global pandemic. Regardless of what anyone feels about the movie, this is horrible luck and the movie must be cursed! But despite the delays, the finished product looks like it still needs some work. The filmmakers want this to be a boisterous thrill ride, but can only maintain that note for brief stretches due to a shallow script.
Granted, once the hunt is on, the film is actually a fun (albeit frustrating) experience. The captured are bewildered, relying fully on survival instincts amid shootouts and elaborate traps. Even those supposedly familiar with the weapons in play aren’t safe from the carnage. The issues come when the characters start opening their mouth, espousing common conflicts of the day (the abortion issue, sexual and racial prejudice, gun rights) and something just doesn’t fit when the dialogue and the action try to conjoin. On the one hand, the physicality and choreography is exciting and kinetic, but the characters shouting political beliefs at each other is so stilted that it puts a halt to the energy – it’s like watching an insufferable Twitter thread brought to life.
The point, obviously, is that these people are very angry, but there’s no wit to their characterization or interactions. At one point, after killing a group of people, a husband suggests to his wife that the deceased were probably racist. There’s no specific character behavior that motivates this suspicion, nor is the conversation between the couple funny or clever. It’s just stated because racism was on the flash card for list of “hot button” issues that needed to be in the script. Then there’s the central antagonists themselves, who mostly miss the mark. The motivation behind the hunt revolves around a social media controversy directed at a group of rich liberals, with the disgraced party using the hunt as retaliation against conservative commenters.
But presented with the opportunity to have fun with the many idiosyncrasies of the white-liberal demographic in question, the movie goes the route of presenting their targets as smiling caricatures lacking the depth to fuel their antagonism. So, just like every other film (especially of the dystopian variety) where the corporate elite are the villain? The social critique of both the conservative and liberal would work better if we had any characterization for the villains. Instead, what we know about them is that they hate being called out online and they like grilled cheese. This is hardly the foundation for biting social satire on why unmitigated prejudice, towards those you disagree with, ends up hurting yourself in the long run due to social decay and lack of political productivity.
But as the script fumbles while trying to hit a chord that works, there’s one element that excels. That would be Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a soldier with advanced combat training and no patience for this political BS. Gilpin has already broken out once (Netflix’s Glow), but may be primed for even bigger things on the horizon. Even as she has to sport an exaggerated Southern accent, endure physically taxing action scenes, all while spouting the smartest dialogue in the screenplay, Gilpin truly becomes this role and her portrayal of Crystal feels like a real person that was inserted into this absurd farce, regardless of the characters’ many theatrics. The Hunt has inadvertently created a new action hero, who I’d love to see spun-off into a different story, or crossover with other action icons. Not holding my breath, but it would be a welcomed surprise.
It’s for these reasons, along with it’s surreal humor and strong action, that The Hunt may turn into a cult classic one day; despite it’s many flaws. If nothing else, it will be an interesting footnote in history due to not only the turbulent political climate the film attempts to capture, but also the snake-bitten nature of it’s release. But it’s lack of success in capturing that climate is what holds the film back. There are clever subversions, especially against traditional Hollywood formula, but the depictions of our case studies aren’t nearly as creative.
The one idea the movie seems to rail against repeatedly is the “IT’S JUST A JOKE, BRO!” culture. But the spin here is it’s the liberals who find themselves in the defensive position. While I find The Hunt’s dramatization of these topics to be ephemeral, the idea at least is timely. Everything about the film’s broad design seems creative and compelling – take the common dilemmas of the two political sides, and switch the circumstances. That’s why the conservative characters, most likely to support gun rights, are the prey. That’s why the liberals, most likely to lead a charge against a public figure for their damaging words, are at the center of a PR controversy. There’s a clear attempt to put each side in each other’s shoes in order to find common ground. The Hunt succeeds broadly, but loses itself in the details. Perhaps the complexity of today’s political conflicts require misfires like this, so that a better film can come along and truly nail it. In that sense, The Hunt may be remembered as the prototype for the film that adeptly satirizes the modern world. It’s the first film I can recall where the conflict centers squarely on a Twitter beef, but it won’t be the last.