dir: Craig Zobel
Now, The Hunt was meant to come out some time last year. But there had been a mass shooting somewhere in the States, as these things rarely happen, and morons, including the orange emperor of the morons, made some moronic statements about the film, so it was shelved.
Jump forward to a time when mass shootings have lowered, what with people wanting to stay safe and all, and The Hunt finally sees its “controversial” release, mostly on streaming services, as far as I can tell. It was shown for only a week in cinemas before being released digitally and before the cinemas were all closed forever thanks to a different kind of plague compared to the one Americans usually face.
So one could be tempted to start a review with something like: was it worth the wait? Is it as damning a piece of cinema as was threatened or implied by the clueless and the feckless?
Well, probably no on both counts. People took umbrage with the premise because they’d heard that what starts off as a horror flick and degenerates / improves into an action flick celebrates the murdering of innocent conservatives by a collection of wealthy liberal elitists.
Dumb people who thrive on outrage don’t need reasons or accuracy to impact their decisions.
They ignored from the start that the hero in these kinds of flicks is the one left standing – the villains are the ones slaughtering innocents for no good reason. Such a premise doesn’t allow for the nuances of ideology even if they shift around the origins of the participants. Humans hunting humans always looks pretty nasty, so having rich people hunt poor and homeless people (Hard Target, Turkey Shoot, The Most Dangerous Game, The Purge) or liberals murdering conservatives for no good reason (The Last Supper, and only this, as far as I can remember) doesn’t make the murderers look good.
In fact, it emphasises that it is the murderers who are, in fact, bad.
When I say that this starts off as a horror film, and then improves, I mean it starts off looking very cheap and nasty, and then gets marginally better once it works up some momentum and once they let Betty Gilpin shine.
The very first images we see are of a group text message chain between friends that ends up being pretty gross, but the implication is that a group of rich arseholes has kidnapped a bunch of right wing morons and intends to hunt them for sport, and maybe for food, I’m not sure where they draw the line. They are probably vegetarians in some cases, but maybe they make an exception for the sweetest meats of all.
We then watch a rich arsehole (Glen Howerton, who excels at playing loathsome arseholes) be a belittling prick to an air stewardess on the least convincing set pretending to be a private jet that I’ve ever seen. All the other people on the plane seem to be different shades and strengths of arseholes too. When a burly confused individual in overalls starts bumbling around the cabin after waking up unexpectedly, the queen of the arseholes, being Athena (Hilary Swank), murders him with one of her high heels. It’s as classy as it sounds.
A bunch of confused people wake up wearing gags they can’t take off. They gravitate towards a box that’s filled with weapons and a little pig (the first of many embarrassing references to Animal Farm, in that the piggie is literally called Orwell by the villains). The second the weapons come out, people start shooting at them from a distance, killing many of them. Many of them are recognisable, like Gilpin, Ike Barenholtz and Emma Roberts (their faces more so than their names, in most cases), but most are killed pretty quickly so as to enhance their forgettability.
None of them except for the real protagonist stick around for very long. She in fact disappears for a while as three of the hunted make their way towards a gas station out in the middle of nowhere.
It’s incumbent upon me to mention that there are lots of deaths at this early stage, and they’re all played for laughs. I didn’t laugh, but I admire them for trying. Wait, no, admiration is not the word I’m looking for. There’s a woman that trips over and falls onto some spikes, who is rescued, but the rescuer ends up standing on a landmine, which blows him up, and sends her flying, back onto, you guessed it, the same spikes as before. Her death, like all these deaths, are meant to be funny.
What is funny is that, given the premise that these people who think they’re on the right side of history are torturing and killing people they consider to be a blight upon humanity because of their beliefs and their propensity to believe and promote conspiracy theories are truly awful, the film also goes out of its way to show how shitty most of the hunted are as well, almost hedging its meager bets by saying, “Yes, they are all arseholes.”
At the gas station, literally called Ma & Pop’s, two old coots greet the confused victims and tell them they’re in Arkansas, which comes as a surprise to the three out of towners. I think they could have been less subtle and made it all about Kansas instead.
The ma and pop are revealed to be something other than what they pretend to be, and then indulge in performative wokeness regarding who has the most privilege, what NPR (America’s public radio broadcaster) believes about the use of “black” as a descriptor for the African-American community, how soft drinks / sodas are poison and other supposed PC signifiers. It’s pretty lazy stuff, but thankfully their fourth victim comes along, being Crystal (Betty Gilpin), to put an end to their nonsense. She sees right through their bullshit, seeing as these tree-hugging murderers of gun worshipping nincompoops have no idea what a packet of cigarettes would cost, because why would they?
Crystal is a fucking force of nature, and is way too competent and way too smart to be tricked or manipulated by these supposed Silicon Valley tech overlords. She susses that not only are they not in Arkansas or Kansas anymore, they’re probably not in the States at all. She also figures out, after another one of the morons / victims from the start keeps ranting in conspiracy theories and about “crisis actors”, who has his own podcast, don’t you know, that there’s little chance any apparent government official will be there to help them out at the end of the track.
Macon Blair has a small role as Oliver, another one of these awful hunters, yet I still forgive him, because he was so great in Jeremy Saulnier’s movies Blue Ruin (especially) and Green Room too many years ago now. In his own way he pathetically pushes the plot forward by trying to trick Crystal not only with words, but with a convenient box of money, conveniently labelled “BRIBE MONEY” in case we were too fucking stupid to figure it out for ourselves.
I guess when you have untold riches at your disposal, you have to separate your good, wholesome money from the dirty Euros you use to bribe corrupt refugee camp guards. I mean of course you do.
I’ve spent too much time on the set up, and I have to admit it doesn’t warrant it. But once Crystal is unleased in full force, she’s pretty much a joy to behold as she plows through these arseholes with the kind of focus and ferocity that would put John Wick or Charlize Theron’s character in Atomic Blonde to shame.
They are all easy pickings. But, to paraphrase Omar from The Wire, if you come for the queen, you best not miss.
With the Final Confrontation between survivor Crystal and spider queen Athena, the flick backtracks in order to give a ludicrous backstory to why this particular set of arseholes decided to kill this particular set of right wing arseholes, and it’s flat out one of the most ridiculous ideas I’ve ever heard. A rich liberal who jokes about murdering right wingers, gets offended at a conspiracy theory that crops up about rich liberals murdering right wingers, and decides the perfect remedy is to kidnap a bunch of right wingers and kill them for believing in the conspiracy in the first place.
It’s dumb, but I guess it’s meant to be dumb. There is a final knock down drag out fight between Crystal and Athena, and it’s pretty great. Of course it recalls the opening brawl in Kill Bill between Beatrix Kiddo and Vernita Green, because it’s mostly in a kitchen and it’s mostly hand to hand, but it expands on it and does it playfully enough to be very entertaining. I am not going to argue that multiple award winner Hilary Swank does anything great here, since she’s definitely slumming (aren’t we all?), but she’s pretty solid in the fight and in conveying her superior sense of entitlement over her foe. I suspect as well that it was stunt casting in the first place, since the person who even used the phrase “deplorable” to describe half of a certain orange moron’s fanbase was a different woman called Hillary…
But anyway, their brawl is great, Betty Gilpin is tremendous in a film she doesn’t give a shit about other than conveying that she is ready to throw down in any action franchise, and while this isn’t a flick that requires a lot of acting, she does best in a flick that doesn’t deserve it. I thought she was great with a complicated character in the Netflix series GLOW (that improves over time), but she’s even better here, smart arsed and lethal in equal measure. She never says a single political thing either for the duration of the flick, which is a blessed relief in a flick that is nowhere near as clever as it thinks.
7 times this flick only deserves the score it gets solely for Betty Gilpin out of 10
“ Once the whole family’s broken into little pieces, he sits down and eats their dinner. Every last bite. Because the jackrabbit always wins.” – she tells the most chilling version of the tortoise and the hare that I’ve ever heard, with an updated moral to the story as well – The Hunt