In the new tradition of Blumhouse, THE HUNT is glossy modern exploitation. It is more in the vein of The Purge series of films than Get Out, movies with vague political undertones that are not deeply explored that deal with people in modern society letting their own worst impulses rip. Even though some people don’t like it, that’s actually not a bad thing to me. I like The Purge movies, some more than others, and I love screen violence. I don’t fall into the trap of thinking screen violence is real or that it makes people perform violent acts. If they did, I would have murdered many people long ago. I think it’s cathartic and helps people PURGE their violent urges, aggressive feelings and anger in a healthy way. It’s also lots of fun. Violence is a part of the human mind, heart, and soul. It’s not going to go away if you only watch Disney films and musicals. You might as well face it and deal with it.
THE HUNT is about two groups of people, the privileged rich hunters – “The Liberal Elites” who have kidnapped a group of “normal folks” aka MAGA and Trump Train social media conspiracy theorists. Both are unlikable and self-righteous types, but the film is actually quite sympathetic to the MAGA group, which is not surprising since one of the major themes of the film is that maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to judge another person just because you don’t like where they are from or you don’t agree with them politically. However, much like the ridiculously fun, You’re Next, there’s a spoiler in the crowd that is more capable than the would-be hunters and turns the tables.
Yes, there are messages in THE HUNT and none of them is KILL THE DEPLORABLES, despite what MAGA Twitter or Fox News says. I have seen some saying that there really isn’t any meaning to this movie, but I think there is. I just think that it might be a bit of a bitter pill for some liberal minds.
Tony Bourdain did an episode of Parts Unknown in West Virginia. Part of what he had to say in the episode was a recurrent theme in his series. He stood up for marginalized groups. He stood up for Iranians, he stood up for Palestinians, and he stood up for the people of West Virginia. He went there and talked to the people and actually listened, which was one of his greatest strengths and at the crux of the episode. Here is his opening narration:
“To think about, much less empathize with somebody who comes from five generations of coal miners, in a place that looks like this is, to our enduring shame, unthinkable. Why can’t these coal miners get retrained? Maybe put up solar panels for a living. Why would these conservative, deeply religious people vote for a thrice-married, billionaire New Yorker? Well, I went to West Virginia and you know what? Screw you. Here in the heart of every belief system that I have ever mocked or fought against, I was welcomed with open arms, by everyone. I found a place both heartbreaking and beautiful. A place that symbolizes and contains everything wrong and everything wonderful and hopeful about America.”
THE HUNT is substantially less elegant than that paragraph, but the core principle remains. Even “deplorables” are people. Does that mean that every one of them is good and in the right? No. But there is an equal and probably equally unappealing serving of the same lesson about liberals. Not all liberals really believe in equality and inclusivity. Some are only giving lip service to respecting people of color or women because that’s the way they were raised and they really don’t understand what they are saying or doing. Some are contemptuous or overtly bigoted, sexist, or racist in private. One of the Elites, a man, waxing poetic about his aid worker trip to South America is interrupted by the group asshole who ribs him about getting a local woman pregnant. Asshole is interrupted by another fellow elite, a woman. She says “They needed his help.”. Asshole rips them both right back by saying, “But did they need his sperm?”. That one hit me square in the face. It was that exploitation, especially sexual exploitation, comes in many forms and frequently from people who see themselves as saviors. The colonist mindset is in some ways, still at work.
Just like MAGA or Trump Train true believers, these people got their prejudices and bigotry from the same place. They got it from their environment. They just hide it better. Perhaps it’s not the most original idea ever, but THE HUNT says to me that sometimes people aren’t really all that different from the people that they hate. Some of the characters are close to walking stereotypes, but everyone evokes pity when they die. Because a human life lost, no matter what side they are on, is a tragedy. Maybe not for you, but it is for someone (it is definitely a serious bummer for the dead person), and after all, aren’t movies empathy machines? Plus, the whole “is this real or is this The Hunt” aspect of the movie kind of brings the whole “crisis actor” thing in for a landing. An ironic landing.
It’s not explicitly stated what social media site everyone is posting on, but I get the distinct feeling that the main one that the movie is concerned with is Twitter. Most of the world is engaged in a love/hate (mostly hate) affair with Twitter. People love the ability to spread information and communicate with people worldwide as quickly as possible and they hate it too. People blame the platform and the rules of the platform rather than people and their very human behavior for the things that are wrong with Twitter. Twitter isn’t HAL 9000, it is what we make it. While the creators and owners bear responsibility, so do we. What the film has to say about such platforms like Twitter, is that social media gives us all a megaphone. The size of your megaphone varies according to your ability to convince others that you are right. Social media takes the malleable nature of THE TRUTH and pours it into the gaslighting machine that is humanity’s collective brain. MAGA believes what Sean Hannity says while Liberal Twitter scoffs. A rogue element of Film Twitter shouts their racist Id into the crowd and depending on the millisecond, the reply may vary. The story develops over time as people either ignore the facts or search them out.
THE HUNT doesn’t dig too deeply into this topic, but skims the surface, like a person RT-ing an article without reading it. Once again, we are back to the idea of the person who believes that they are right and they are better simply because they have information that they either didn’t read or didn’t really understand. That the Alex Joneses or the Sean Hannitys or Shaun Kings or Jason Lei Howdens of the world purposefully direct the communal truth by shouting or screaming the loudest, until someone works up the courage to defy that idea and propose a different take. It’s allied with the idea that you are one tweet away or one story away from cancellation. This is really not a belief that I truly feel is 100% correct, because – yes, there are people who deserve cancellation, but a cautionary idea that the filmmakers clearly have a personal stake or a personal fear of. I believe that this movie does bear the weight of these and the next batch of ideas, because I saw Craig Zobel’s Compliance, Compliance is a deeply uncomfortable film that makes you skin crawl with the idea of exactly how easily people can be controlled in the work environment.
THE HUNT is definitely in that vein and definitely the work of the same director. It’s not here to make you feel good about yourself. It’s here to challenge your preconceived notions, knee jerk reactions, and smugly held beliefs. If anything, THE HUNT says, maybe take a moment to read and research that idea and make sure that it is something worth fighting about. Don’t go on a crusade for something that is shockingly untrue. Pause. Gather the facts, keep your eyes open, don’t trust everything automatically, and keep your head. Literally. I suspect that filmmakers have a lot of movies about the dangers of social media coming our way. In a way, this is a revenge film. It’s just the revenge of people who got canceled for a bad joke. Their words had consequences, so out of anger and annoyance, they’ve decided the offending parties deserve to die. Not exactly a measured response. Twitter wars. Real wars have been started for similarly trivial reasons. As I mentioned before, violence and anger are part of all human beings. It’s literally part of our physical being located in the central nervous system. You cannot avoid it, but you can control it. When you get angry, it is not the thinking part of your brain that engages, it is the limbic system that is impulsive and irrational. It is the emotional areas rather than the rational frontal lobe of your brain. Sometimes when you act strictly out of anger and fear, you find yourself standing in the smoking ruins of what was once your life.
Back to the violence. The fight sequences, including the big boss battle at the end, are quite good. The violence manages to shock and there’s some good quality gore involved. Like You’re Next, many of the people that you assume would be bigger players in the film get iced almost immediately, which is still pretty funny. Betty Gilpin as Crystal gives an unconventional and droll performance as the one-woman killing machine and clearly traumatized ex-soldier. She is really good. Usually, when someone is playing someone strange or damaged, they spend a lot of time self consciously winking at the camera to point out exactly how strange and damaged they are. Not here and I commend Betty Gilpin for letting that oddity pulse from her being. Hilary Swank manages to best her previous bitch performance from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and equals the resolve of Alice Paul from Iron Jawed Angels. But inside, you can tell that Athena got her feelings hurt. Emma Roberts and THE HUNT’s wardrobe department should definitely win something for best yoga pants ensemble. And any movie with the good sense to cast Macon Blair, even in a small role, is already on my good side. Even in his brief moments, he added some serious comedy value and humanity as is his wont, and believe me, THE HUNT is a comedy (with horror elements). I will even go so far as to say it is a satire. It isn’t Animal Farm, but it does reference Animal Farm for a well-aimed barb at well educated and arrogant dopes who think reading a book that they clearly didn’t understand makes them better than everyone else. It’s a satire, but a satire that you might not be all that comfortable with. Yes, it is based on the story, oft adapted, The Most Dangerous Game.
Directed by Craig Zobel (Z For Zachariah), written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, produced by Jason Blum and starring Betty Gilpin (G.L.O.W.), Ike Barinholtz (MADtv), Emma Roberts (American Horror Story), Hillary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry), Glen Howerton (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia), J.C. Mackenzie (Hemlock Grove), Ethan Suplee (The Wolf Of Wall Street), Reed Birney (The Americans), Terry Wyble (The Walking Dead), Sturgill Simpson (The Dead Don’t Die), Usman Ally (Suits), and Macon Blair (Green Room, Hold The Dark). Cinematography by Darren Tiernan (Westworld), edited by Jane Rizzo (Succession), music by Nathan Barr (True Blood). Technically, the film has a colorful and peaceful beauty and well-designed background that is the perfect setting. It looks pretty and peaceful in an ironic way given the violence. In a way, some parts of the film are actually mini-sets themselves which adds to the unreal quality of the narrative. Also, make sure to stay for the credits. THE HUNT arrives in theaters Friday, March 13, 2020.