Very much a Trump-era movie, The Hunt is the story of a gang of the “elite” going on their annual “deplorables” hunt (spot the Hillary Clinton reference), with a ragtag bunch of gagged and tied rednecks as their quarry. Interesting concept.
The idea is that the elite set the rednecks running and give them something of a head start before coming after them with an intention to kill. The reference point for this sort of thing is usually Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 bloodfest Battle Royale, though it wasn’t the first movie to present hunting as some sort of bloodsport – 1987’s The Running Man springs to mind, or going even further back there’s 1965’s The Tenth Victim, a properly eccentric cat-and-mouser starring Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni. Perhaps closest in satirical tone to The Hunt is the Australian film Series 7: The Contenders, which shares this film’s pitiless sense of humour, assuming you find people being massacred in various ways funny.
So the “deplorables” get a fighting chance but it’s still a one-sided affair and death comes quickly and in many guises – by poison, hand grenade, gas, arrow, an impaling. And the slaughter also comes with a side order of clumsy political commentary. At one point the quarry assert their right to “stand their ground”, as per the Second Amendment. At another one of the elite shouts “climate change is real” into the face of one of the dying deplorables he’s just shot.
No, the film isn’t on the side of the elite, who seem incapable of dealing with any situation without first processing it through an ideological framework. The rednecks, though suckers for a conspiracy theory and tending to see everything as a gigantic con, get the underdog vote and are more thoughtful and resourceful. And eventually the focus of the movie falls on Crystal – smart, ornery and marked as a redneck by virtue of her rack, it seems.
Here the writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof tread carefully. Crystal might be a redneck but she keeps her political affiliations to herself, is more the everywoman fighting for survival than a representative of any faction. Betty Gilpin plays Crystal as a bit of a Jason Bourne figure – resourceful and with hidden depths. It’s nicely done.
Cuse and Lindelof are productive writers who might have tossed this one off in a few days, so programmatically is The Hunt written. Cuse was staff writer on The Leftovers, a TV show about the end of the world. Lindelof famously gave us Lost. Traces of both can be found here.
Adding a bit of star power towards the end is Hilary Swank, who turns up as Athena (not uncoincidentally the name of the goddess of war), the almost mythical leader of this mob of rich liberals, for a mano a mano showdown with Crystal in the kind of bitch fight that the film is really, for all its political topcoat, all about.
Because of the attention-grabbing political angle, this film had a certain social media notoriety before that all faded away once paying customers entered the equation. The march towards deserved obscurity began. For all its positioning, it’s not a political movie dressed up in gore but an old-fashioned exploitation movie using an aspect of the zeitgeist frame to dress up one blood-spattered exit from this world after another.
At this it is undeniably good. Director Craig Zobel knows how to deliver shock and awe as one victim after another is dispatched in ways so outlandish that the only real response is to laugh. The scene featuring much use of the spinning blades of the Magimix – the sort of product placement a company would pay NOT to have – really says it all. And that’s the way to take The Hunt – as a comedy decorated in culture wars wallpaper.
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© Steve Morrissey 2022