An appropriate final movie release before the apocalypse
Brisk, tight, fiercely entertaining and not at all deep, The Hunt is a lock-and-load hoot. This over-the-top satire revels in liberal elites who make a blood sport out of murdering the conservative working-class. Think Pizzagate, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other baroque but enduring fringe conspiracy theories that demonize the Haves and sanctify the Have-Nots. It’s an extended SNL sketch designed to thrill QAnon acolytes. But also to kinda-sorta chide them for being so gullible.
THE HUNT ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Written by: Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank
Running time: 90 min
Talk about a culture war! Is it a seismic provocation against the MAGA crowd? Not really. The stereotyped hoi polloi aren’t nearly as broad as the moneyed One-Percenters, who go around referring to our “ratfucker-in-chief,” washing down caviar with champagne, and name-dropping the Time 100 Dinner. One of them refers to their mixed group as “guys,” then gets icy stares. “Sorry, I gendered it,” he says sheepishly.
Nothing says privilege like a pampered woman in silk crimson pajamas poking out a burly man’s eyeball with her killer stiletto heel. “Fucking redneck,” she spits, as her victim bleeds out on the floor of a nightclub-lit Learjet. He’s the first of twelve souls chosen for Manor House, a luxe retreat where six ultra-rich snobs, including a philanthropic billionaire, get to slaughter “a dozen deplorables.” It’s The Most Dangerous Game, updated for our charged political era.
The hunters drop their kidnapped prey near a giant wooden crate in the middle of an otherwise empty field. Inside is an impressive arsenal: handguns, assault weapons, serrated knifes, a samurai sword, you name it. The first few minutes is a massacre, as their captors-turned-snipers start picking them off from a fortified bunker. The discombobulated survivors, having avoided bullets, arrows, land mines and a spike-filled pit, make it past the barbed-wire-topped fence parameter. Out in the sylvan, middle-of-nowhere world, what passes for Arkansas is really Croatia.
Enter Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a jaded rental-car employee and Afghanistan vet with John McClane’s resourcefulness and a Lady-Rambo stoicism. She gets a handle on the situation and predictably turns the tables on her smugly sadistic torturers, wreaking vengeance until it leads her to the Queen-Bee mastermind: corporate shark and weekend-warrior Athena (Hilary Swank). Fisticuffs ensue, as well as a recipe for the best grilled cheese sandwich (use Gruyère!) and a Cliff-Notes explanation of Orwell’s Animal Farm. “Orwell was a racist,” sneers Athena. She’s a reactionary poseuse and deserves to die. Get it?
Sledgehammers are more subtle than The Hunt, but the film knows its own parodic limitations and keeps any loftier Swiftian aspirations in check. A Modest Proposal, this ain’t. But because it’s not terribly well thought-out, The Hunt ultimately feels like a smash-and-grab stab at easy laughs and low-hanging-fruit buzzwords. Devilish zingers include “I don’t believe in hell, I’m a Godless elite!” and “He probably uses the N-word—on Twitter!” Also name-checked: NPR tote bags and overtaxed cigarettes. One funny bit involves a Middle Eastern refugee who literally turns out to be a Crisis Actor. But there’s no serious follow-through.
Director Craig Zobel is an effective steward for all the mayhem, having proven with minor-key movies like Great World of Sound and Z for Zachariah a sympathetic knack for scrappy common folk low on options but high on resourcefulness. And with The Leftovers and Watchmen on his resumé, co-writer Damon Lindelof has an impressive track record for exploring human behavior in dystopic situations.
Yet the ingredients don’t quite gel. The Hunt tries hard, and delivers a heap of cheap thrills, but doesn’t quite stick the landing. As a parable, it works best as a condemnation of a world gone to extremes, where a kill-or-be-killed mentality and distrust on both sides is the natural outcome in a social-media-toxified society. As rise-up incitement, though, it’s surprisingly demure.