[su_dropcap size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] spent most of The Hunt‘s lean runtime trying to pin down just what the hell it is. Are we dealing with a sour political satire or a dead-sprint thriller? Or…could this be a straight-up horror movie? This film feels a lot like a juggling act, wherein its makers eventually drop all the pins on the floor. In trying to be something to everybody, The Hunt ends up being not enough of anything to anyone.
Despite its overt attempts at cleverness, the story is fairly straightforward: A group of strangers get drugged, gagged, and dumped into a forrest. The terrain around them is rigged with booby traps. Distant snipers begin to pick off one dazed victim after another. As the body count begins to mount, one survivor just might be a little more John McClane than anybody bargained. Crystal Creasey (Betty Gilpin) is an Afghanistan vet, who is extremely resourceful and quick to adapt to the ruthlessness of this Most Dangerous Game. She teams up with survivors and attempts to find her way to freedom.
At this point, the film serves up a bizarre twist: Turns out, Crystal and her fellow prey were seemingly selected because of their alt-right political beliefs. Most of them have posted inflammatory rhetoric, fanning the flames of racism, conspiracy theories, and xenophobia. As someone who doesn’t subscribe to any of these, Crystal is baffled by her inclusion in the hunt. Could it be a mistake? Or is she a target for different reasons altogether?
For a film that only clocks in at 90 minutes, The Hunt has a lotta stuff to unpack. Let’s start with its most obvious hook–the political satire. The filmmakers go to great lengths to jab at predators and prey alike: Besides Crystal, almost everybody embodies some kind of stereotype. The alt-righters get portrayed as illiterate, hee-haw gun nuts who spout archaic vitriol at anyone who isn’t like them. Meanwhile, the snowflake assassins come across as tenderfoot snobs–haughty social justice warriors who can find offense in almost every situation.
By skewering each side equally, what message does The Hunt have for the whole? The obvious takeaway would be that extremism tends to attract small minds, whatever the ideology may be. But what about anybody who occupies the massive expanse between the far left and the alt-right? Are we derelict for allowing zealots to dominate the discourse? Has the Silent Majority been too silent for too long? My suspicion: The filmmakers aim for both sides so they don’t have to pick one. The Hunt hopes to offend no one by offending everyone.
Now, let’s move on to where The Hunt stands strongest–as a propulsive thriller. The idea of a modern, blue-collar Hunger Games actually works surprisingly well. It’s fun to watch Gilpin’s Crystal utilize her quick wit and a cool head to stay one step ahead of her hunters. The fight scenes are refreshingly coherent and exciting, particularly the climactic battle. This sequence features a famous actress in a glorified cameo, and I won’t spoil it here.
Finally, the horror element: The Hunt runneth over with gore and savage violence, until it reaches cartoonish proportions. I suspect this gets played up for the shocking comedy of it, but some may find it off-putting. Anybody who gets easily queasy, consider yourself warned.
As I said at the onset of this review, The Hunt winds up being a frustrating movie. It’s a B-movie with high ambitions, a satire without any comprehensible message, and a story that plays it safe by living dangerously. Some of the humor lands, and quite a few scenes burn with tension. Unfortunately, The Hunt never figures out what kind of movie it wants to be.
89 min. R.