Review of “The Hunt”

Twelve people, including Crystal (Betty Gilpin), Gary (Ethan Suplee), Don (Wayne Duvall) and Big Red (Kate Nowlin), wake up in a field. They’re all from different parts of the country and don’t know how they got there. Soon, they are being shot at by a group of wealthy liberal Social Justice Warriors. Some of them escape the field and find a small roadside gas station and convenience store run by Ma and Pop (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) who tell the group they are in Arkansas. When Crystal finds the store, she suspects there’s more to the kindly old couple than meets the eye and kills them both. Crystal also discovers she’s not in Arkansas and realizes she is a target of rich people that hunt humans for sport on an estate called The Manor. The Manor has been the subject of internet rumors since it was first exposed by an email hack. The leader of the hunters is Athena (Hilary Swank), a powerful and ruthless businessperson looking to exact revenge on those she feels have slighted her. But what could these 12 random people, unknown to each other from around the country, have done to Athena and her friends.

Originally scheduled for a late September 2019 release, “The Hunt” was pulled from the schedule by the distributor, Universal Studios, following mass shootings that occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Once the subject matter of the film, a battle to the death between wealthy liberals and working-class conservatives, became known, Fox News and President Trump trashed the movie, making assumptions it would belittle conservatives and cram the liberal agenda down audiences’ throats. As with most things discussed with no knowledge, they got it exactly wrong. “The Hunt” should thrill fans of the President, as it shows the “wealthy elite” as brain dead and concerned more about labels and gendering than the plight of everyday Americans. It also shows them as bloodthirsty and intolerant while conservatives are shown to be susceptible to the conspiracy theories of people like Alex Jones and diehard supporters of the Second Amendment and strong boarders. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tweet from the President or one of his sons extolling the virtues of “The Hunt” as more of a documentary than a fictional film. It’s a shame COVID-19 has depressed movie going as “The Hunt” is a fun and gory satire on America’s current political divide and the dangers of extremism on both sides.

“The Hunt” features a powerhouse performance from Betty Gilpin. Playing a confident and prepared woman who is no one’s victim, Gilpin exudes confidence and power in every frame. Crystal is wary and distrusting of everything she sees once she wakes up in the field. Keeping herself separated from the others, she survives the initial attack and forges her own path. I believe it’s an example of how everyone should navigate the current political minefield by not accepting everything said by pundits, vloggers, bloggers and podcasters as pure, unvarnished truth. She casts a wary and skeptical eye on everyone presenting themselves as allies, not taking what they say at face value. Crystal represents the reasonable but skeptical consumer of information: Listening attentively, but not believing it all. We should all try to be our own “Crystal.”

Most of the ire from the film’s perspective is aimed at the liberals. They fret over labels and gendering of groups. They select a person for death because he’s a big game hunter, ignoring their own hypocrisy. They don’t choose a black conservative because of the optics, even though they are the only ones that will know. It’s a cascade of jokes at the expense of the liberal elite with one of them saying, “White people, we’re the f***ing worst.”

Conservatives don’t escape the critical eye as those with numerous guns, anti-immigrant beliefs and the racially intolerant being mocked. Actually, they aren’t mocked, they are allowed to express their thoughts and the audience is allowed to decide if they are laughably ignorant or not. It’s a remarkably fair examination of ideas from both sides. My opinion on both sides is they are too extreme in both directions to be allowed to run the country unfettered. But that’s just me. You might need to risk leaving your home to see the film for yourself and make up your own mind.

Part of the marketing for “The Hunt” is the tagline, “The Most Talked About Movie of the Year is One That No One’s Actually Seen.” It’s a brilliant use of the controversy surrounding the film to sell it. If not for the fear of contracting COVID-19 it might have worked beautifully. It also speaks to the failure of our clickbait-driven social media world. A salacious headline for a link to a far less controversial article will be read a million times, while the article itself may only be read half a million times. The link will be shared or retweeted by the ignorant half a million with an angry comment declaring a government agency, celebrity or other entity is preparing to wipe us all out or wants to kill and eat babies when the story is far more tame and reasonable. Mark Twain once said that a lie will fly around the whole world while the truth is getting its boots on. Only he didn’t. The quote likely came far earlier from Jonathon Swift. See, you need to question everything you read and the motivations from everyone from whom you hear it. Even me.

“The Hunt” is rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout. Heads explode, bodies explode, people are impaled on various items including arrows and spikes in the ground. One person is beaten severely with a pipe. A pig is shot to death. A Cuisinart is used as a deadly weapon. A pen is jammed on one person’s neck. A high heel is used to stab someone in the eye. There are numerous other violent and gory deaths. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“The Hunt” has had the worst timing of any film in modern history. First its release was delayed due to two mass shootings that attracted the ire of those that blame such things on popular media like video games and movies despite evidence to the contrary. Then COVID-19 became a serious threat with a death rate five times higher than the seasonal flu a week or so before the film’s rescheduled release. While the movie has a less than original story arc, like horror films featuring a “last girl,” “The Hunt” approaches the toxic political climate with equal doses of humor and exaggeration. Liberals and conservatives alike should find things to love and hate in the film and, to me, that means it must be doing something right, annoying good people on both sides.

“The Hunt” gets four blood-soaked stars out of five.

Because of the COVID-19 threat, there isn’t a new wide release scheduled until April 10. Whether I’ll watch some films that have been out a few weeks, watch some original releases on the streaming services, or just stay home, I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when I figure it out. Stay safe, wash your hands, don’t go to work if you’re sick, don’t hoard supplies and be good to each other. For more information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast about life, love and entertainment, available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

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