"Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves "Elite," but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!"
That's a tweet from the President of the United States about Craig Zobel's new film 'The Hunt', a limp action-comedy-thriller which has stirred up a world of controversy it doesn't earn.
The premise of the movie is roughly based on the short story titled 'The Most Dangerous Game'. In it, a big-game hunter from New York City falls off a yacht and swims to what seems to be an abandoned and isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is hunted by a Russian aristocrat. Published in 1924, the story is inspired by the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were particularly fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s.
During the opening scene in 'The Hunt', we are introduced to a private jet full of "elites", played by the likes of Hilary Swank, Amy Madigan, Macon Blair and 'It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's' Glenn Howerton, who clumsily murder a man using an expensive high-heeled shoe. A cargo hold full of kidnap victims is revealed before we cut to black.
We then meet Emma Roberts (playing a Tomi Lahren-type and credited as "Yoga Pants"), gagged with a silicone bit, as she wakes up in a wooded location and wanders onto a grassy field. There, she and a random assortment of people (including Justin Hartley, Ike Barinholtz and Ethan Suplee) are confronted with a gigantic wooden crate containing a selection of heavy-duty firepower, a la 'The Hunger Games'... and a pig in a T-shirt. From a distant bunker, bullets start flying, and the film cycles through several protagonists before settling on Crystal (Betty Gilpin, Netflix's 'Glow'), the spitfire of the bunch who refuses to sit back and be victimised by the well-to-do nutjobs. Gilpin is the highlight of the film as the stock "extremely dangerous character everyone underestimated" - if this were a 90s movie, she'd be played by a Nicolas Cage or an Ashley Judd.
In fact, both factions boast a badass babe out to defend the cause of their personal fight. For the hunters, Athena (two-time Oscar winner and one-time 'The Next Karate Kid' Swank) leads the charge for the conscientious killers looking to eradicate the deplorable peons during the hunt. Swank is, as always, great.
Zobel ('Compliance', 'Z for Zachariah') directed 'The Hunt' from a screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, a seeming trio of talent, although I am very sceptical that Lindelof was a 50/50 co-writer of the script with Cuse. While I find Lindelof's work to be overrated, he doesn't seem like someone who just makes random shit like this. "Okay, I just finished 'The Leftovers', a piercing three-season meditation on loss, grief, forgiveness, redemption and the necessity of human connection. Soon, I've got to start on 'Watchmen', which I'm going to turn into a commentary on racial injustice and its inherited traumas. What should I do between those two shows? Aha! Movie about liberal elites hunting ordinary Americans." No, this feels more like: "Damo, your mate Cuse's script is crap but we gotta start shooting in a week. Can you just go over it once and make any improvements?"
There are some echoes of 'Surviving the Game', 'The Purge' and 'Hostel: Part II' in there, but the movie isn't nearly as infuriating as we were led to believe. Yes, Zobel's film does pit liberals against MAGA types, but it makes fun of both sides so much that it's almost hard to be offended. The people of the hunt are caricatures: conspiracy theorists, big-game hunters, rednecks, gun nuts, social justice warriors, and "libtards" (just typing out these words gives me social media fatigue). Whatever controversy was supposed to be there, by making these characters such exaggerated ends of the political spectrum, it takes away any bite the film could have had.
The people of the hunt are caricatures. Conspiracy theorists, big game hunters, rednecks, gun nuts, social justice warriors, and "libtards" (just typing out these words gives me social media fatigue).
Unlike Jordan Peel's 'Get Out' or Rian Johnson's 'Knives Out' (which was much more plausible about the faults of liberals and how they actually manifest), the satirical shock value in 'The Hunt' feels sketchy and slight because the film is unable to tap into the realm of bottomless cynicism to help along with its subversive overtones. Instead, 'The Hunt' is fortified with convenient jabs and lukewarm jokes saturated in a goofy-minded gorefest, like Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett's 'Ready or Not' or the best Uwe Boll films.
The film drifts apart as the proceedings progress and the plot is explained, while the cat-and-mouse element to the storyline loses momentum, especially when the slaughtered combatants become secondary to the skull-cracking defiance of Crystal. Christopher Smith explored similar territory more effectively with his film 'Severance', which saw the low-level employees of a multinational arms-trading company on a "team-building" weekend in the Balkans being menaced by Russian war criminals.
Condescending liberals lashing out at conservative cronies and their right-wing leanings should have made for some enjoyably edgy satire, but 'The Hunt' is merely a by-the-numbers comedy-horror-suspense thriller that has a few punchy moments. However, if production company Blumhouse wants to remake a bunch of 90s Jean-Claude Van Damme action movies with Betty Gilpin in the lead role, I think I'd be down with that. I'd watch them, not in the theatres obviously, but late at night on Netflix after a few beers.