Review: 'The Hunt' struggles to find balance between seriousness and satire
Courtesy of Universal/Blumhouse
A remake inspired by Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” Craig Zobel’s delayed political satire “The Hunt” arrives on the heels of a worldwide pandemic where audiences might find it hard to indulge in a film where conservatives from across the country are dropped in a field, “Hunger Games” style, and hunted by an array of woke elitists. The film, originally slated for a September bow, was pushed after comments from President Trump and a string of shootings in El Paso and Dayton made the filmmakers reconsider the timing. While I think moving the film in light of current events was the smart movie, the hype over its subject matter was a bit of an overreaction, mainly because it’s not that interesting.
No matter the release, “The Hunt” is a mixed, mostly disappointing, bag considering the ultra-packed and bloody action sequences are cheerily over-the-top early on, but the satire elements seem a bit far strung, struggling to find a way to bridge the humor between political junkies and genre enthusiasts. The cast assembled is respectable: Zobel peppers his film with some recognizable cameos: Ike Barinholtz, Emma Robberts, Justin Harley, and Ethan Suplee to name a few, but the narrative stays with our heroine Crystal (Betty Gilpin) a resourceful working class republican trying to navigate the films literal political and deadly hunting ground.
At the start, “The Hunt” has an intriguing set-up: often plowing through one bloody mutilation after the other, complete with guts, land mines, and arrows (‘What is this ‘Avatar’ shit” one of them quips). It’s a bit overwhelming and it's only a matter of time before there’s no more bodies left to dismember, and the VFX effects utilize most of their $14 million dollar budget. While the rush of adrenaline certainly gets the blood pumping in the first thirty minutes, “The Hunt” can’t carry that momentum into the final hour. Especially as the film shifts gears to Crystal, and you think the film is heading towards a surprising revelation, and instead
sticks to the basics at every corner.
The amount of jabs and woke comments about feminism, equal rights, and illegal immgriation fly left and right, but most of the jokes fail to stick. It almost feels like “The Hunt” is a parody of itself, and perhaps that’s the point. One character in the film justifies the slaughtering of deplorables on account of their Twitter feed and you’re wondering when the director is going to wink at us.
It’s a shocker considering screenwriter Damon Lindelof (who gave us the brilliant and far more social conscious “Watchman” on HBO) doesn’t really critique the subjects he’s lampooning. I struggled to find a true significance outside a string of hashtags and buzzwords like “snowflake” meant to garner some audience reaction in different sectors of the country. There’s even a cringeworthy reference thrown in to “Animal Farm” and it feels like a lifeline to somehow make it feel sophisticated. The irony is “The Hunt” is about liberals hunting conservatives, and that seems a bit misguided. I’m also unsure how I felt about the employing of the Syrian refugee crisis as a subplot. Some might chuckle, I sat confused.
Finally, “The Hunt” is seemingly locked into its small-close quarters, leaving little room for worldbuilding, aside from Hilary Swank who's the CEO of a huge marketing company - and the leader of the annual hunt - as she struggles to grasp with how right-wingers act and behave in a society run by a buffoon. Swank is mostly heard off-screen as she lurks in the shadows akin to another villain in a George Orville novel. Her and Gilpin do get to throw down “Kill Bill” style in a brawl that’s downright insane, yet by that point “The Hunt” can’t find the line between satire, and seriousness. Admirably, it wants to have the best of both worlds but Zobel’s flick ends up strapped and airless.
The Hunt is now playing everywhere.