The Hunt is a variation upon the Most Dangerous Game wherein people hunt others for sport. These movies always have buried social and political themes but The Hunt pushes the metaphor screaming to the forefront and underlines the political divide in America. It’s not as innovative like the very awesome people hunting thriller comedy from last year, Ready Or Not, but there is a lot to like here. Mostly The Hunt bounces gleefully from gore action thriller to dialogue comedy to intense psychodrama to political parody that skewers everyone on the political spectrum with multiple twists. It’s a hyperactive movie that has satirical bite.
When a bunch of strangers wake up in the middle of a forested nowhere, they are gagged, confused, and find a cache of deadly weaponry (that last part is almost exactly like The Hunger Games but gets a pass). Almost immediately, they are being shot at from unknown assailants and soon a whole lot of them wind up dead. One crafty survivor of the carnage, Crystal (Betty Gilpin), realizes they are being hunted by what her new associate Gary (Ethan Suplee) says are people from MansionGate, a conspiracy where liberal elites hunt conservatives at a stately mansion. Crystal is trying to stay alive with her other associate Don (Wayne Duvall) all while the mastermind of the plot, Athena (Hillary Swank), is overseeing everything they are doing and waiting to finally meet her prey.
The film is co-written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the latter is the co-creator of Lost and created The Leftovers and Watchmen for HBO. While the grand arc of the movie plays out the way one would expect, the twists inside of scenes are surprising. The most interesting structural trick is the opening act where the point of view of the audience keeps shifting to a new “hero” character. When Lindelof started Lost, he wanted to bump off the main character, Jack, in the first episode, which didn’t happen, so he manages to indulge in that instinct about five times in a row for an electric opening act. The movie initially centres on a recognizable star while the character who ultimately becomes the hero, Gilpin’s Crystal is briefly seen running away. Said recognizable star is quickly bumped off so the camera focuses in on the point of view of another character, who is then again bumped off. It keeps the viewer totally off balance.
Another great moment is when they discover refugees randomly on a train and then Gary rips into them as being “crisis actors” saying he sees through their con. It paints Gary as an uncaring jerk but then there’s several more twists that occur. There’s also a scene that slows way down with the hunters who yak while waiting for their victims to arrive as they rip into their military consultant for having worked on the forgettable Bruce Willis actioner Tears of the Sun. It’s a very fun random bit of pop culture nonsense that gets upended when the bullets start flying. The action by director Craig Zobel is often crunchy, shocking, and sudden which gives it impact.
There is some witty writing throughout although even sometimes the wit can be a bit too witty. Oftentimes someone will say something stirring and then someone else will immediately undercut it. It’s funny the first few times but after awhile it can be a bit repetitive. But what is very good is how everyone in the movie is untrustworthy, even the main hero. Don ends up being Crystal’s travel buddy then one bit puts them at odds which is incredibly tense. Both Suplee and Duvall as the travelling companions have excellent moments throughout. Ike Barinholtz ends up delivering a lot of rapid-fire exposition as he arrives at a mom and pop corner store which descends into chaos.
Gilpin as Crystal does a whole lot without saying much. There’s a flashback that shows a single photo of her life that conveys volumes in a single heartbreaking image, great and efficient storytelling. She tells a dark variation upon the classic tortoise and the hare story which reveals the demons in her head, and at one moment she simply conveys what her mental state is by just making a humming noise which speaks volumes. Swank as Athena the mastermind is interestingly held back, for most of the film she is presented as the back of her head or a disembodied snarky voice on the radio. This makes her eventual reveal and an extended flashback to her motivations interesting, as opposed to how in almost all action thrillers the big bad basically jaws about their backstory at about the halfway point. As with everything in the movie, her motivations have a few different layers to them.
The characters are mostly all kind of jerks regardless of whatever side of the political spectrum they land on. There’s a lot of ire focused on the liberal hunters being bloodthirsty holier-than-thou sermonizing morons although the conservative victims don’t fare better. Interestingly, Crystal seems the most apolitical as she is just focused on survival. While the story of The Hunt has been done a lot, the joy is in the random times it constantly zigs when you think it’ll zag.
Directed by Craig Zobel
Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank and Ike Barinholtz.