“The most talked-about movie of the year that no-one’s actually seen…Decide For Yourself!” proudly states the poster for 2020 movie, The Hunt. Such a claim is fuelled by a release date pushed back after mass shootings in the U.S. during 2019 and early trailers that drew the Twitter ire of hotelier Donald Trump for perceived left-wing bias. The movie’s theatrical run was cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak but does it deserve the controversy?
Produced by Blumhouse Productions (His House, Get Out, The Invisible Man) and co-written by Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Watchmen, Cowboys & Aliens, The Leftovers), there is clearly a talented pedigree at work here. It is apparent within the first 15 minutes that The Hunt is not going to play out the way it deliberately suggested it would.
A dazed and confused man causes a ruckus on a private plane before being violently subdued. Other similar passengers awaken in a remote location; surrounded by forest, gagged and disorientated. Slowly they make their way to an ominous-looking wooden crate in an open space, and then…
Well, the plot description stops there. The Hunt is a movie that utterly delights in wrong-footing you on multiple occasions and to go much further into the plot would be to spoil that. A title like ‘The Hunt’ gives you enough initial information to go on though. There are many blood-soaked and gory deaths splashed about in a blackly comic manner that my hands shot to my mouth in shocked amusement and the surprise factor is a large dose of the fun. Director, Craig Zobel is well versed in how the visual language of movies leads you to expect events to go a certain way. However, it quickly becomes difficult to work out where (if anywhere) your sympathies are supposed to lie.
The pre-release controversy likely stems from the fact that the humour and tone in The Hunt is very difficult to extract into a trailer. On the face of it, the relationship between those hunting and their prey appears simplistic. As we get to know people we learn that many of those fleeing for their lives have attitudes that, shall we say, lean to the right of the U.S. political spectrum whilst those hunting them lean to the left.
Yet come the halfway point of the movie it should be apparent to anyone keeping score that neither side is being portrayed with any real sympathy. The Hunt hardly swings into full satire mode, but it is smart enough to know that for the concept to work it has to needle the biases of one side whilst also puncturing the hypocrisies of the other.
Characters come and go throughout but the presence of Betty Gilpin (GLOW) as Crystal Creasey rivals that of Uma Thurman as The Bride in Kill Bill. Her steely glare absorbs all the information around her yet she virtually mumbles much of her dialogue, fully aware of the suspiciousness of her predicament.
Several of ‘the hunted’ manage to escape their immediate surroundings yet the very nature of being drugged and stranded somewhere shows a manipulating force at play. Gilpin’s skill is to bide her time, eye up the situation, and use immediate and brutal force as and when required. The aftermath may be showy (Blood! So much blood!), but she sells it by delivering a carefully muted and always poised performance.
I blindly went into The Hunt aware only that there was an element of controversy but confident in the knock-out track record of Blumhouse Productions, and I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I was delighted! The Hunt is darkly funny, gloriously violent, filled with smart misdirection, and wickedly uses extremes to highlight the vast gulf of a divide between the two main U.S. political viewpoints. If you ever find yourself in the same situation as these hunted people then run fast, watch carefully, and check your change after any purchase as mistakes cannot be rectified later…
Words by Mike Record