Quite often, when producer Jason Blum presents something controversially topical, we get The Purge franchise. But every once in a while, we also get Get Out. Blum may not have anything to do with the creation of any of these films, but he backed them financially, and a great number of people in the world responded to their message, for better or worse. Now Blum teams with the co-creators of the recent Watchmen series, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, on The Hunt (which the pair co-wrote and co-produced), a film that made headlines last year when Republicans (including the president) complained, in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings, about a film that appeared to advocate the hunting down and killing of Republicans for sport. The film’s debut was delayed six months and now appears it will be one of the last wide release films for the next few weeks or months.
Directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance, Z for Zachariah, HBO’s The Leftovers), The Hunt begins with a prologue of a group text by unknown senders talking about the current (unnamed) president’s latest bit of idiocy, when someone in the conversation makes what we assume is a joke about hunting down “deplorables” at their manor. Without warning, we are transported to a private plane where a group of clearly very rich liberals are jetting somewhere when a rather large redneck stumbles in from the back of the plane confused and pissed off. He’s dealt with, but not before he does a great deal of damage and it’s revealed that the whole back of the plane is filled with 12 bound, gagged and drugged red state residents. They are eventually deposited in a clearing and given access to a few weapons to defend themselves from unseen hunters who begin picking them off one by one in rapid succession.
The film’s cast is peppered with familiar faces with funny character names (according to the cast list), such as Ike Barinholtz as “Staten Island,” Wayne Duvall as “Don???”, Ethan Suplee as “(Shut the Fuck Up) Gary,” and of course, Emma Roberts as “Yoga Pants.” Make no mistake: just because some of these folks may be more famous than others doesn’t mean they get to live longer. In fact, the one thing The Hunt gets very right is surprising us with who lives and who dies on both sides of the equation. The one redneck character who even gets to use their own name is Betty Gilpin’s Crystal, a fantastically self-reliant and slightly insane character who displays a real aptitude for weapons, fighting and general survival skills.
As the story proceeds, we discover that these 12 strangers were not selected at random. They were specifically chosen by the people who are hunting them for reasons I don’t want to reveal, because it’s almost so ridiculous that I’d hate to ruin that surprise for anyone. Those running the show include liberals portrayed by the likes of Glenn Howerton, Amy Madigan, Sturgill Simpson, and Hilary Swank as Athena, who seems to be running the show and has her deeply personal reasons for wanting to hunt these folks for sport. In the few times when either side gets a moment to take a breather and actually get into their personal philosophies, we’re treated to some fairly clichéd and standard-issue rhetoric, peppered with internet conspiracy theories on one side and woke/PC speak on the other. I get why the characters are written this way, but that doesn’t stop it from being cringeworthy.
The Hunt’s final act pits Swank and Gilpin in a fairly impressive and epic battle of wills, wit and muscles as they basically beat the living crap out of each other for a good 15-20 minutes. In just those final moments, their between-punch conversation and actual-punch fighting improve the film exponentially, but it also reveals the inherent flaw in Athena’s grand design. The two women elevate the film just by being such true warriors, each fighting for what they believe in, both right and wrong in their approach to so many things in life. The film’s politics are watered down, vague and very often just silly, but it doesn’t try to be anything more than a dark, dark comedy with action punctuating the story throughout. I certainly was never bored by the movie, and it has the good sense to clock in at less than 90 minutes. Plus, Gilpin is genuinely so much better than the material she’s given, her performance, in many ways, saves The Hunt from being disposable.
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