The Hunt Betty Gilpin

The Hunt is much ado about nothing

Condemned by Trump and delayed by mass shootings, The Hunt is merely a bit of dubious provocation made mildly palatable by Betty Gilpin’s performance.

Before we talk about The Hunt, the most recent take on the musty old trope of man-is-the-most-dangerous-game (unsurprisingly ushered in on the silver screen by The Most Dangerous Game in 1932), we have to deal with the one thing that most people know about The Hunt at this point in time.

The film was supposed to be released in September, but the first trailers engendered enough controversy for its perceived anti-Republican bias that the mother of all shitstorms started brewing. As with most shitstorms these days, it came to a head when none other than President Donald Trump condemned the film in a tweet. With the added pressure of a few mass shootings in the days preceding the aforementioned shitstorm, the studio decided to “cancel” the release of the film (which in this case meant holding off for six months). It’s not rare that film releases are delayed or switched around, but rarely with this kind of political uproar. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, of course, and now we find ourselves in front of The Hunt, a tremendously by-the-book horror thriller that, irony of all ironies, positions the do-gooder neoliberal NPR crowd as the psychotic bad guys. 

Twelve people wake up gagged in a field with no recollection of how they got there. A crate is placed in the middle of the field with weapons in it, and the second it’s opened, it’s hunting season on the 12 pre-selected prey. Snowflake (Betty Gilpin) soon finds out that all the hunted (which are dwindling rather fast, all things considered) have been targeted for their political beliefs and that the entire thing seems to be a set-up — that where they are isn’t Arkansas, as some claim, but an Eastern European country with lax rules, apparently, when it comes to hunting humans.

The meat of The Hunt is pretty standard thriller fare, given a little boost by some metatextual genre manipulation — director Craig Zobel plays with audience expectations by casting some of the film’s bigger stars in small roles and vice-versa — that nevertheless betrays a certain creative bankruptcy when it comes to its actual construction. Humans are hunted, as promised; that premise holds about as much power as it generally does in the myriad of other adaptations of this story. But if director Craig Zobel and writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse really wanted to make a movie that was solely about man being hunted as prey, they would have made Hard Target or Surviving the Game or even the most recent, Jon Heder-starring film in the Tremors franchise (!). But they didn’t — they made The Hunt, a self-flagellating thought exercise where sketchy both-sidesism rules the day.

In that sense, The Hunt works a bit as a mirror image of Ready or Not, the equally facile and buzzword-heavy horror film where rich aristocrats hunted poor people. That film’s politics were clear from the beginning; it’s a film that’s as heavy-handed as The Hunt but at least wears its politics on its sleeve. The Hunt is more complicated. It begins by pushing the audience’s buttons by assuming that we are all there to watch rednecks, alt-right podcasters, Staten Island bros and white rappers from Florida get shot in the head or otherwise butchered. It purports to give us what we want, even if what we want is pretty facile and stereotyped. As the film goes on, however, our allegiances are meant to change. We learn that the elites who have orchestrated the whole thing are in fact well-meaning, rich (mainly white) liberals and that the entire reason the thing is happening is that the rich CEO of some company (Hilary Swank) made a joke about hunting “deplorables” in a text thread that was leaked. Essentially, the film seems to be saying that being accused of something is as bad as actually doing it, so you may as well do the thing you’re accused of.

Given the politics in most films and television shows that this creative team have made in the past, it seems like The Hunt isn’t exactly intending to be as reactionary as it comes off. There’s a certain amount of perceived Get Out-type subversiveness (where all of the liberal elite villains are more or less variations on Bradley Whitford’s character in that film), but it mainly feels like The Hunt is putting on its politics. Everything about it is shoehorned-in and underlined, with dialogue that feels almost like Mad Libs in which the language of “wokeness” is thrown around interchangeably. I think it would almost be better if the film were actually a reactionary pamphlet born out of some crackpot like Dinesh D’Souza — it would, at the very least, have the courage of its convictions. Here, the aim seems to be more along the lines of a surface skewering of liberal values; a 90-minute-long “you can’t fire me, I quit” where people get gibbed by grenades once in a while.

It’s a great irony that Trump condemned The Hunt for being pretty much exactly the opposite of what it actually is. It’s a greater irony still that the film will be released in the early days of a global pandemic that is almost certain to sink box-office numbers across the globe, in part because of the very same guy who condemned this movie without seeing it. Frankly, everything surrounding The Hunt is much ado about nothing, except perhaps for Glipin’s performance. 

Since her breakout in GLOW, Gilpin has not been particularly well-served by her big-screen outings — as an incompetent mom in the talking-dog movie A Dog’s Journey or as the thankless love interest in Stuber — and here she finds a role that, while not exactly rich with context, makes excellent use of her particular physicality and steely resolve. (Granted, this is more or less just a more trigger-happy variation of her Liberty Belle character on GLOW.) Gilpin is likely to be the only thing anyone remembers about The Hunt even a year from now. ■

The Hunt opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 13. Watch the trailer below.

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The Hunt opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 13