A film review by Craig J. Koban March 29, 2020


2020, R, 115 mins.


Betty Gilpin as Crystal  /  Emma Roberts as Yoga Pants  /  J. C. MacKenzie as Paul  /  Hilary Swank as Athena  /  Justin Hartley as Trucker  /  Ethan Suplee as Gary  /  Macon Blair as Envoy  /  Ike Barinholtz as Staten Island  /  Amy Madigan as Ma  /  Glenn Howerton as Richard

Directed by Craig Zobel  /  Written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse





With the possible exception of THE NEW MUTANTS, I can't think of another film that's been typified by more bad luck release doom than THE HUNT. 

Director Craig Zobel's (COMPLIANCE and Z FOR ZACHARIAH) newest film - on its most basic levels - is a satire about American political divide as well as a take on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME premise of people hunting and killing other people for sport.  Universal originally set the film for release back in September of last year, but cautiously balked after a series of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso last August.  The you-know-what really hit the proverbial fan when the U.S. President himself in Donald Trump tweeted out a hate filled rant ("This movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos"), despite having never seen a frame of THE HUNT.  With this confluence of factors, Universal delayed the theatrical release to just a few weeks ago.  When the Covid-19 pandemic hit North America and caused all cinemas to close, THE HUNT once again saw its theatrical fortunes stymied.  In an unprecedented move, Universal opted to forego the usual 90-plus day window to release their film on VOD, and people were able to see it through various streaming sites almost immediately after it played in cinemas.   

All of this prologue is important, because it serves to serve up a couple of simple questions: (1) Is THE HUNT worth seeing based on all of its release controversy and (2) Is it worth a fairly steep twenty buck VOD rental fee to watch in the privacy and safety at home?  

The short dual answer is sort of and nope.  

On a plus side, THE HUNT absolutely embraces its B-grade, midnight movie trashiness and never looks back as a piece of exploitation cinema.  That, and it features a star making turn for lead actress Betty Gilpin (so terribly good in the underrated GLOW series for Netflix), who single handedly keeps this whole enterprise afloat.  Where THE HUNT misses its target (no pun intended) is in the area of its premise building and timely political themes.  This movie has a tremendous amount that it wants to amusingly say about the liberal and conservative divide in America, but it doesn't seem to have the shrewd and cunning capacity to hold up on those promises.  That, and HUNT feels undercranked and flat in terms of explaining its macabre world turned upside down.  This film's overall attempts to be a timely black comedy are pretty disposable and flatfooted.   



The opening of THE HUNT sets the odd and somewhat disjointed tone right away, as we bare witness to a luxury private jet that is home for some obnoxiously elitists and rich liberal blowhards that have essentially kidnapped and drugged a bunch of bottom feeding conservatives against their collective wills.  We're then whisked to an unspecified field in the middle of nowhere, where the once unconscious victims wake up gagged, completely unaware of what's happening to them or what's to come.  They all converge on large wooden shipping container, which is opened to reveal a cornucopia of weapons and survival gear.  As the frightened hostages start to gear up, bullets start blasting by, leaving them with the horrific realization that they've become prey for sport.  One thing THE HUNT does well here in these introductory stages is throw viewers completely off balance in terms of expectations.  Many of these victims are played by modestly established performers, with a shocking number of their characters being killed and dispatched with very early on. 

As mentioned earlier, these poor saps are all blue collar Republicans that have, in some form or another, deeply upset the Liberal hunting elite, led by Athena (Hilary Swank), the ringmaster of this nightmarish scenario.  One of the survivors of the initial purge is Crystal (Gilpin), who seems whip smart and much more physically agile and capable of defending herself than most (we later learn, somewhat conveniently, that she's an ex-military women).  One of the better scenes in THE HUNT shows one group of survivors on their own hunt for the truth, which takes them to a quaint ma and pop rural gas station, owned and operated by, yes, ma and pop (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney).  Early on these kindly old folk ensure these hunted people that they're in Arkansas, but something seems oddly afoul, and Crystal is able to easily deduce that this store's owners aren't for real, not to mention that they're not anywhere close to Arkansas.  Crystal finds some early solace in teaming up with red-necked conspiracy addict podcaster in Gary (Ethan Suplee), and slowly, but surely, Crystal grows to learn of Athena's identity and place of authority in all of this, and starts a long and risky pilgrimage to find this sadist and end her once and for all. 

THE HUNT is a mercilessly gory film, but in a largely shock inducing over the top manner.  As an outdoor wilderness survival horror comedy, Zobel does not shy away from brain bashing, bone crunching, and artery spewing carnage here, and he seems to be having devilish fun concocting multiple ghastly ways to kill human beings.  When guns and knives aren't used, things as far ranging as pens to high heels are used as improvised weapons of close quartered destruction.  Again, THE HUNT understands and owns up to its underlining sleaziness, and there are moments that are indeed sensationalistically entertaining in a pure retrograde kind of way.  And leading the charge of this unapologetic mayhem is the hilariously poker faced and steely eyed Gilpin, who not only makes a thoroughly credible action hero here, but also garners some of the film's best laughs when it comes to her pitch perfectly deadpanned reactions to the rampant craziness that surrounds her.  It's only inevitable and hardly a spoiler to relay that Crystal and Athena will go toe-to-toe in the film's climax, and Zobel most definitely delivers in this go for absolute broke donnybrook.  Both Gilpin and Swank show what remarkably good sports they both are here are harnessing this film's preposterousness and playing things relatively straight, which works wonders in the dark comedy front. 

Still, I wished that Swank's repellent left wing corporate baddie was given more screen time to develop.  Both her and her fanatical liberal comrades in arms aren't given much embellishment in the story beyond cookie cutting clichés and stock character types.  In fairness, the Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse's script doesn't seem too interested in properly fleshing out any of these characters (minus Gilpin's) on either end of the political fence.  They're all mostly crude caricatures, but not much else, which all but neuters this film's already feeble attempt at worthwhile social and political satire.  If there's one thematic aspect that THE HUNT tends to nail then it's in how both the conservative and liberal personas here have a deep seeded mistrust and fear of each other, which helps simmers intense hostilities.  For a film with as much pre-release build up and controversy as a potentially incendiary piece of polarizing satire, THE HUNT is mostly shrug inducing, leaving me wondering what the hell the months of fuss was all about in the first place. 

However, I can't completely dismiss Zobel's efforts.  THE HUNT's failure as a political comedy notwithstanding, it's kind of giddily thrilling and amusing in showcasing its one-woman-army in Crystal taking names and kicking entitled ass using all guerrilla tactics at her disposal (a pig is even used at one point...don't ask).  And Gilpin is absolutely clicking on all cylinders in her performance, which rises well above the other mediocre elements around shabbily built up around her.  One of my litmus tests that I use as a critic is to ponder whether a film is worthy a theatrical ticket price or not.  Well, now that cinemas are closed, I'm faced with a new dilemma.  I sincerely don't think that THE HUNT is worth an egregiously high $20 VOD fee right now (even when split between a couple of socially distancing roommates or family members).  But when it gets a later digital/home video release at a much more tolerable $5-6 rental fee?  Sure.  It should be locked in your crosshairs then. 

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