Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 9, 2020)
Remarkably, The Hunt can claim to stand as the most controversial movie of 2019 and 2020. Originally slated for release in August 2019, an uproar about the film’s themes gave the studio the heebie-jeebies, so they pushed back its debut to March 2020.
That allowed some distance from the original controversy but it didn’t entirely quell it, as the movie came with various threats against it. These failed to come to fruition, thankfully, so no one got shot as they munched their popcorn.
At a location simply called “The Manor”, 12 kidnapped strangers find themselves stuck together. With no memory of how they arrived, they struggle to cope with this perplexing situation.
The threat becomes clear before long, as they learn they’re there as part of a human hunt. Led by Athena (Hilary Swank), a group of liberal elitists gathers to hunt “Deplorables” for fun.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t sit well with the hunted. With Crystal (Betty Gilpin) at the fore, they fight back against their violent opponents.
Whatever collective memory moviegoers maintain of The Hunt, I suspect these thoughts will connect to controversies more than the film itself. After all the hubbub, it caused nary a flicker at the box office, though that result didn’t necessarily reflect potential interest in it.
The Hunt suffered from the misfortune of a March 13, 2020 release date – aka The Day Everything Shut Down. While the US didn’t literally close shop on that Friday, it started the movement toward self-quarantine, and movie theaters locked their doors en masse a few days later.
This left The Hunt with a tiny box office footprint, though it seems tough to figure out how much different the result would’ve been sans COVID-19. The film came with so much negative advance press that it seemed unlikely it would ever get a fair hearing.
By “fair hearing”, I mean a view that would assess the movie accurately. When conservative outlets heard about the film’s story in 2019, they leapt to the conclusion that it would play as a fantasy in which liberals got their revenge on MAGAs via violent retribution.
In reality, Hunt goes mostly in the opposite direction. Firmly satirical, the film goes out of its way to aim many of its barbs at the very liberals its critics thought it would glorify.
Make no mistake: Hunt aims to mock and lampoon liberals. The notion that the film would take a firmly anti-MAGA POV and exhilarate in the execution of Trump supporters proved woefully misguided.
Not that Hunt brings a one-sided affair, though, as it gets in its licks at the right wing side, too. Though those moments pale in comparison with the opposite POV, the movie throws in enough to offer some balance.
As much attention as Hunt got for its politics – misguided or not – the film works best as a basic thriller. For the most part, the stabs at social commentary tend to go for low-hanging fruit.
This means some of the material becomes amusing, but a lot of it feels predictable – in terms of the comedic swipes, that is. The film offers good twists overall, but these relate to its plot points, not its satirical moments.
As far as that side of Hunt goes, it proves fairly effective. Like I mentioned, it works best when it pursues basic action beats, as these seem clever and keep us engaged.
A good cast helps. Gilpin creates a strong action lead presence, and she manages the character’s comedic bits in a laconic manner as well. Throw in Swank and other known actors like Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee and Amy Madigan to find an above-average group.
Ultimately, Hunt doesn’t quite find the mark, mainly because its satire seems hit or miss. Nonetheless, it delivers a pretty entertaining experience, as long as one comes to it with a strong tolerance for violence and gore.