Good storytelling is very often about achieving balance. Filmmakers have to find a way to perfectly juggle the fundamentals of the three-act cinematic structure and infuse it with engaging characters, layering in some underlying themes that make the entire movie a seamless experience. It’s not easy and very few consistently achieve this creative equilibrium. A great example is Jordan Peele’s highly praised debut “Get Out,” which tells a great story with interesting characters, and says something salient about race relations in the United States thanks to biting social satire. Peele pulled off an epic juggling act and made it look effortless.
The new film “The Hunt” desperately wants to be the same kind of experience—to deliver social satire while staging another variation on Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” It basically focuses on a bunch of rich people who round up some unwilling participants to be hunted for sport. This time the rich people are liberal elites, and their prey are conservative. Both sides get skewered, literally and metaphorically. From this setup, writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (HBO’s “Watchmen”) and director Craig Zobel create a more chaotic juggling act that involves chainsaws and eventually turns into a bloodbath.
The film opens by introducing us to one of the 1%, Richard (Glenn Howerton), and the scene quickly informs the audience of everything good and bad about the hunt. It is not subtle. There will be no attempts at layering the social elements into the cinematic recipe. “The Hunt” is going to slap audiences in the face with the most obvious, stereotypical, cartoonish representations of humans ever committed to film. I wasn’t surprised to discover most characters weren’t given names. Instead, they’re referred to by their attributes, i.e. “Yoga Pants” (Emma Roberts) or “Vanilla Nice” (Sturgill Simpson).
The hapless hunted wake up in a large field with a supply of weapons to choose from. Before anyone can make sense of what has happened to them, gunfire erupts and the game begins.
Credit must be paid to author Richard Connell: This premise of humans hunting humans for sport, still, is wildly successful in terms of creating tension. The concept can make for entertaining moments. “The Hunt” is well-executed in that the carnage is fast, surprising and ugly. There are no attempts to soften the depiction of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man. The end result is the kind of murderous mayhem I love—a symphony of cinematic suffering, a berserk ballet of brutality.
After some lovely carnage, we meet our hero: a salty little firecracker named Crystal (Betty Gilpin). She’s intelligent, a little kooky and really good at killing people. Unlike the rest of the cannon fodder, Crystal is smart enough to outwit her tormentors and inflict great harm upon them. The talented Betty Gilpin carries “The Hunt” on her beautiful, broad shoulders. She benefits greatly from being the only character given anything that resembles depth.
Everyone else in the movie is a shallow caricature that amounts to approximations of people constructed by social media posts; they are humans constructed from the worst thing they ever said on Twitter and Facebook. There are the barest of interesting ideas on display, too—tiny, dust-sized diamonds in a mound of common coal. It’s marginally interesting.
Unfortunately, the movie is never more engaging than its basic premise. We never get the kind of depth and nuance found in “Get Out.” This film is more like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”—so over-the-top in its satirical intentions it ends up seeming completely removed from reality.
“The Hunt” works as an ultra-violent thriller, but it never says anything novel about the political polarization that has our country in a headlock. I’m guessing some people might get a chuckle or two watching both sides of the social spectrum mocked or brutally murdered. But the on-the-nose satirical elements are low-hanging fruit. Liberals are dismissive of conservatives and see them as unintelligent; conservatives are prone to propaganda and conspiracy theories. It’s not exactly Orwell-level satire, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Rated R, 1 hr 30 mins
Directed by Craig Zobel
Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Emma Roberts, Sturgill Simpson