If I didn’t know better I would think that people who got steamed about The Hunt ahead of its original August 2019 release date were in on it. The hysterics played like a beat from the movie with such precision that, in retrospect, it feels staged, but the fact that it was so very real means that director Craig Zobel and screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof really had their fingers on the pulse. To quell a potential talking point, the movie wasn’t designed to be a “haha, The Left is better than The Right” type of story and the narrative could easily be taken out of context, because it was. The film equally lampoons both sides with hilarious effect and holds no one on a pedestal. If anything, the movie could have spurned just as much of a reaction from the other side of the aisle and played into the movie’s hand in the same way.
Betty Gilpin stars in the film as Crystal, a woman who, along with many others, like Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, and Justin Hartley, wake up in a mysterious Hunger Games-like scenario where they’re being hunted. Things aren’t quite as fair as the box-o-guns they find makes it seem; sure, they have a fighting chance, but barely. It becomes clear that this group of people are of one political persuasion while those hunting them are of another, but it’s not as simple as that both in the context of the movie and in talking about the film itself.
Early on in The Hunt, Zobel telegraphs what kind of movie you’re watching when an excised eyeball and its gory knot of nerves hang from a high-heel. This movie is a farce. It is dialing things up to “11” to make us all realize how ridiculous the entire thing really is, and by "thing," I mean discourse. The comments on this review alone will likely be like a cartoon, further proving the movie's points. Everyone has a target on their back for everything they do and perhaps everyone should take a breath and consider what’s going on around them.
Gilpin is a powerhouse in The Hunt, delivering gut-busting laughs with one of the most convincing southern accents I’ve ever heard on film. She also manages to carry its intense action sequences, going toe to toe with Hilary Swank in a fight that manages to have the intensity of The Raid while maintaining the home-grown humble quality of Blumhouse, all while also being hilarious. It's refreshing to see a movie that takes a sequence like this to such extremes, then reflects on how exhausting such an event would be for its participants.
The Hunt’s script by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof is clever in how it unfolds the drama and mystery, never offering more than it needs to and always pointing the finger at the absurdities across the political spectrum. Jokes across the aisles never boil down to "look how dumb this side is" or "look how selfish they are," it's always about finding the truth in actual absurdities and making it feel authentic while holding a funhouse mirror up to the whole thing. Some clumsy elements of the narrative do feel out of place, at times, but the structure couldn't change without fundamentally making for a different experience.
At the core of it all, The Hunt has the kind of things you expect from grindhouse fare. There's blood and guts, funny jokes, and action scenes that feel unique and noteworthy. Also, it's lean and mean at just under 90 minutes. You're in, you laugh, and you're out. The Hunt doesn't overstay its welcome and it knows exactly when to throw its punches. That in mind, it seems unlikely that The Hunt will go on to spawn a franchise (if only because how many times can you make the same point of "everyone is ridiculous"), but if it managed to do that it would have a major asset with Gilpin as its focal point.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Hunt opens in theaters on Friday, March 13th.
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