The Hunt presents a story hook that you’ve definitely seen before. A bunch of random people are dropped into the wilderness, and then upper-class jerks hunt and kill them all like animals. It’s a premise that dates all the way back to 1924 short story, The Most Dangerous Game, resulting in cinematic riffs ranging from 1982’s schlock-y Turkey Shoot, to a more deep, modern-flavoured thriller like 1997’s The Game. Elements of this humans-hunting-humans premise have even served as the foundation behind mega-franchises like The Hunger Games, as well as modern battle royale video games such as Fortnite Battle Royale and Apex Legends, only with the difference being that the trapped targets hunt and kill each other, rather than evading some superior faction that’s turning them into twisted sport.
With Universal’s and Blumhouse Productions’ The Hunt however, it’s back to basics. A bunch of vaguely unlikable people are dropped in a clearing somewhere, and a bunch of rich assholes pick them off for fun. The big twist with The Hunt however is that it’s framed as a political satire, a reflection of the modern, hyper-divided America that’s been more or less torn apart by Twitter feuds and cancel culture. This politically-charged commentary is apparently why The Hunt was delayed out of its originally planned September 2019 release window, which just so happened to coincide with two of the latest mass shootings to ravage the United States. Perhaps it would indeed hit a little close to home last Summer, even for us Canadians, to see a bunch of right-wingers get their heads blown off in the name of some misguided effort to clean up America’s perceived cesspool of intellectual poison.
But wait, you may ask. Does this mean that liberals are the bad guys in The Hunt? Well, that’s exactly the idea. The Hunt aims to flip the classic script of rich conservatives hunting down whomever they perceive to be an extreme example of the lesser, and instead substitutes it for a ‘modern’ take that puts extreme liberals in the power position, while more conservative idealists become their hapless prey. It’s certainly an interesting effort to provide a social satire for the modern internet age, literally weaponizing getting woke as a means of lethally stamping out dissent, ironically the same way that the conservative overlords of past media would exert their totalitarian authority to deadly effect.
I can certainly appreciate The Hunt making the logical (and correct) claim that extreme, unhealthy liberalism is no better than extreme, unhealthy conservatism, and results in the same destructive, intelligence-diminishing backwards thinking that turns its victims into loudmouthed, unhinged and potentially dangerous simpletons. That’s why it’s too bad that The Hunt just isn’t that great of a movie. It can’t commit to a central idea of what it wants to be, neither settling for being universally smart nor universally stupid, and while its handfuls of action scenes are well-done, they’re not frequent enough to justify the fact that we’re dealing with a bunch of caricatures in the lead roles, none of whom ever feel like actual human beings. This is another unfortunate whiff for Blumhouse, who are in the red so far in 2020, after also botching their horror-themed reboot of Fantasy Island. At least Jason Blum’s studio delivered one exceptional 2020 gem with The Invisible Man though, a theatrical movie that’s also been made available for early premium VOD rental alongside The Hunt, and one that provides superior horror and social commentary that’s much more worth your attention.
The Hunt ostensibly stars a large cast of characters, some of whom even being played by actors that will be recognizable to moviegoing regulars. GLOW’s Betty Gilpin occupies the lead role of Crystal, a tough, surprisingly smart action lady who cuts through all of the faux-idealism driving The Hunt’s many insufferable personalities, while solving almost every problem she encounters with a weapon. Gilpin is likely the best performer in the movie too, serving as ass-kicking wish fulfillment for people who are just sick and tired of all the fighting and in-fighting between America’s politically divided ideological camps. Crystal is also the closest we get to a personality with any actual development, and strangely, it all happens during the climax, with a supposed ‘twist’ that affects nothing, and only serves to create confusion with how this so-called ‘Hunt’ is put together.
Some of the other conservative ‘prey’ are played by other recognizable actors here and there, whether it’s Emma Roberts’ Yoga Pants, Justin Hartley’s Shane, Ethan Suplee’s Gary, or Ike Barinholtz’s Staten Island. What do we need to know about their characters? Well, we never really do get to know them. Perhaps that’s part of the satire, highlighting how we attack anonymous people under internet handles, without ever actually learning context, or anything about their backstories. The problem is though, this doesn’t translate to characters that we can become attached to or root for, so it’s really difficult to care when they get axed off, often astonishingly early in the movie!
So what about the villains then? Well, the ultra-liberal Hunt organizers are another bunch of random folks, but the takeaway is that their leader, Athena Stone, is played by Hilary Swank. The movie treats this like a big twist, but in reality, Swank’s face was all over The Hunt’s marketing, so viewers likely already know that she’s the big bad here. We learn a little about how Athena was inspired to create the Hunt, again, very late in the movie, when it’s practically over, and doesn’t matter. By then, it’s too late to really get attached to what Athena and her cohorts are doing, as well as build any opinion around it. There just isn’t enough true substance behind the personalities of The Hunt for viewers to dig into, and that’s a big problem, because it completely removes this movie from recognizable reality. Again, maybe that’s part of the satire, but just because something is a clever intellectual concept doesn’t mean it translates into good characterization in a feature film.
The Hunt’s storyline isn’t outright bad, but it is very scattered and shallow. The plot, for all its good intentions, is ultimately frustrating, because it always comes this close to achieving either cheekily violent humour, or starkly biting social examination, as a primary objective. In the end though, the storyline can’t pick a consistent tone, nor is it effective at establishing real, relatable stakes, even for people who do spend an unhealthy amount of time screaming at randos on the internet. This makes the twists ring hollow, and that’s an especially big problem with the climactic reveals, which feel more bizarre and head-scratching than truly worth the journey to get to them.
The Hunt’s storyline probably would have been better off if it had stopped congratulating itself on grade school interpretations of political ideals and internet culture, and instead actually committed to giving us a truly bonkers, over-the-top satire that would allow us to draw our own conclusions about what it’s trying to say. The ludicrously heavy-handed script feels like it’s trying way too hard to rile up Americans on both sides of the political aisle, constantly inserting terms like, “Snowflake”, “Comrade”, and basically any other overplayed insult that you could level at a politically zealous person. This is on top of insufferably on-the-nose commentary about woke culture and virtue signaling, which just gets to be a little too much after a while. Some of The Hunt’s storytelling does manage to be funny, and the sporadic moments of violence work pretty well, especially during the climax, which finally does seem to hit the perfect balance between political roast and over-the-top action spoof, even if its ultimate twists don’t make much sense. Like I said though, it’s just too late at that point, and viewers will already feel too exhausted and cheated by the ineffectual massacre that precedes this final payoff.
The director of The Hunt, Craig Zobel, is best known for television work, namely directing certain episodes of high-profile genre dramas like The Leftovers, Westworld and American Gods. Zobel’s most well-known feature film directing effort at this point is probably 2015’s Z for Zacariah, an under-the-radar sci-fi gem that largely escaped mainstream attention. The Hunt feels like an effort to experiment and try something new for Zobel, but this results in his direction feeling very scattershot and all over the map. Zobel’s eye for violence seems to be pretty good here, but the rest of the supposedly ‘controversial’ dialogue and writing throughout The Hunt feels like it’s mostly conveyed with all the enthusiasm of a bored high school student who’s being forced to illustrate why they picked a certain story for an analytical essay.
Zobel quite clearly wants to make a violent indictment of the internet’s continued shift towards epidemic-level self-righteousness, but The Hunt’s script just doesn’t fully allow him to embrace that vision. The result is a movie that quickly ends up feeling like a mess of separate visions, with the writing trying to be more clever and self-congratulating, while the direction seems to want to glorify the violence and schlock factor. Even then though, there isn’t enough violence to make The Hunt truly stick with you, even when the moments of violence that do show up at least land with the appropriate level of comically impractical brutality. It’s such a shame, because the moments of effectively biting fun and craziness in The Hunt just can’t ultimately rise above the confused, boring filler that’s layered all around it.
The Hunt is built on an interesting inversion of what we’ve come to expect from yet another movie that’s quite clearly inspired by The Most Dangerous Game, but it also seems to be a movie that stops at the first hurdle, while presenting itself as if it’s a lot smarter than it actually is. Is this movie worthy of the controversy and hullabaloo that’s largely been perpetuated by Universal and Blumhouse themselves? Obviously not. As much as The Hunt wants to make internet extremists on both sides of the political aisle into targets that are simultaneously called out for their equally unsustainable stupidity and ignorance, it’s just not sharp or consistent enough to do that in a way that doesn’t feel ultimately toothless and ineffective.
In the end, the biggest problem with The Hunt is that pretty much none of it holds up to scrutiny, which means that the writing in particular just doesn’t merit being that extensively examined by people who want to try and appreciate the message behind this movie’s twisted, liberal-glorifying ritual of senseless death. That’s before considering people who are coming for the promise of over-the-top violence as well, who will be equally disappointed by the surprising lack of that for too much of the rather short runtime. Thus, the last hook that The Hunt can try and fall back on is its ‘controversy’, and it can’t even pull that off very well.
The Most Dangerous Game has inspired many movies since its initial publication almost a century ago, and almost all of them are both better and more memorable than The Hunt. If you’re in the mood for smart horror, your premium rental money would be much better served with this year’s Blumhouse-produced remake of The Invisible Man. If you’re looking for violent action, you have a ridiculous amount of better movie options across all eras. The Hunt may be one of the only recent examples of a high-profile movie release that isn’t afraid to put modern left-wing sensibilities on blast as much as it does antiquated conservative beliefs, but just flipping the script and not refining its ideas any further than that isn’t enough to make this movie stand out as anything beyond more senseless noise. Rather than bring strong, reliable reason to the outwardly unreasonable, The Hunt simply goes down as yet more intellectual pollution in America’s prolonged ideological war, a war that clearly won’t ever have a winner.
- Gilpin and Swank stand out among the cast
- Action scenes are generally well done
- Some biting political satire manages to work
- Most of the political satire doesn't work
- Storytelling is too shallow and nonsensical
- Many characters are killed too quickly, and none leave an impact