It’s rare that the controversy surrounding a movie ends up being worthy of the movie itself. Whether that’s in regards to the supposed controversial elements or the quality of the film, it almost always ends up being nothing but hot air. That thesis remains true with The Hunt, a movie that was pulled from release for perceived political reasons. I’m not going to recount that entire ridiculous saga, but suffice to say that we now can judge The Hunt on its own terms instead of the hype surrounding it.
With the dust now settled, The Hunt proves itself to not only be undeserving of the scorn it received, but also reveals itself as another example of weak socio political satire in the modern movie landscape.
That’s surprising considering that writer/producer Damon Lindelof (along with co-writer Nick Cuse) is coming off HBO’s Watchmen, one of the greatest pieces of social commentary we’ve seen in media for the last decade. Where that show masterfully utilized metaphor and iconography to explore ideas of moral superiority, The Hunt has the depth and punch of an SNL cold open sketch. The premise about a group of liberal elitists that round up people they see as “deplorables” only scratches the surface of what the movie wants to talk about. There are ideas here worth exploring – cancel culture, consequences for online behavior, binary political extremism, perceived liberal righteousness, classism – but the script doesn’t have any sharpness to it.
Instead, the messaging gets buried underneath Twitter buzzwords and caricatures instead of characters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking your social commentary to a comical and cartoonish level, but it does mean you have to be incredibly intelligent to make it work. Sadly, The Hunt just isn’t that smart. It makes the crucial mistake of sermonizing instead of storytelling, which is becoming a trend in a lot of mainstream genre efforts in the last year.
What’s a shame is that this pulpit-preaching mentality overshadows the other positives elements of The Hunt. As a riff on Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, the human-hunting aspect has some fun moments. Director Craig Zobel knows how to stage violence for comedic effect, and it’s in these stagings that The Hunt achieves its black comedy goals. Though it falls victim to the worst culprit of modern-day violent films (too much digital blood), there are moments of inspired bloodletting that are both shocking and silly.
And while it’s been said in other reviews, it bears repeating: Betty Gilpin decimates every scene she’s in. Her understanding of tone and emotional weight regarding her situation elevates her thinly-sketched character into a protagonist you love to see. She also punctuates her scenes with a sense of humor that’s sorely unrefined in every other part of the movie. An extended monologue where she tells a twisted backwoods version of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is the one scene in the film that marries tone, character, and performance into what the movie wants to accomplish.
Even so, everything gets bogged down in admonishment – this is an attempt from Lindelof and Cuse at doing some self-crit about the extreme viewpoints in their own political alignments – and unnecessary mystery. The eventual reveal of why this hunt is actually going on lacks any impact and only furthers the, “Do you get it?” patronizing voice of the picture. It’s not that this intention itself is bad. It’s that The Hunt doesn’t try to communicate this feeling in a clever way. It just snags the template from Connell’s much-appropriated story and plugs a bunch of 2019 political memespeak into the scenario.
If The Hunt were more focused on good character work and smart storytelling, this messaging would be something that bolstered the movie instead of smothering it. As it stands, The Hunt has very little to recommend outside of a few good gore gags and Betty Gilpin delivering the goods. This is no Battle Royale. Heck, as far as The Most Dangerous Game takes are concerned, The Hunt ends up being about as vital as The Pest. Do with that what you will.