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“The Hunt” Film Review: Not The Most Dangerous Game, But Gruesome Fun Nonetheless

Delayed over seven months, Blumhouse’s satirical thriller “The Hunt” finally arrived to theaters (perfect timing, of course) to mixed results. The film’s controversy emanated from a number of sources including, but not limited to, the influx of U.S. mass shootings combined with the conservative ‘moral’ outrage over the core premise. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a point of contention if Agent Orange didn’t assert his disdain, as if he had nothing better to do than have the gall to unironically call out Blumhouse as the ‘true racists.’ In response, Universal released a press statement iterating that they support their filmmakers “and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators…but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film,” effectively postponing the film’s release. 

Detached from the initial backlash, director Craig Zobel (“Compliance”) has crafted a gruesome little comedy that sustains the time-honored tradition of adapting Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” this time drawing from the persistent divisiveness of American politics as its punchline.

“The Hunt” follows an unlucky group of contestants, gagged and confused, waking up in the middle of a forest unsure of how they got there. Scattered throughout, they instinctively converge to a wide open field, a massive wooden box smack dab in the center, accommodating an assortment of weapons from knives to assault weapons. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for the eruption of violence, as bullets, arrows and land mines give the impression that these people are being hunted for sport. 

As far as “the most controversial movie no one’s ever seen” goes, “The Hunt” certainly takes jabs at liberals and conservatives, accentuating the worst of what each is capable of, but it’s hardly anything transgressive that would have had more or less the impact upon its original September 2019 release date. “The Hunt,” for the most part, takes place from the perspective of the clueless ‘deplorables,’ following them as they navigate this field to safety, all while the ‘liberal elites’ wait for them to appear on their scopes. If anything, the alt-right attack on Zobel’s film plays right into his hand. The real-world conservative realization of what this film is actually about might be the funniest part of this whole thing. 

The Hunt
Betty Gilpin as Crystal | Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The cast of ‘deplorables’ feature such names as Emma Roberts (“Scream Queens”), Ike Barinholtz (“Blockers”), Justin Hartley (“This Is Us”) and Ethan Suplee (“The Wolf of Wall Street”). It’s Betty Gilpin’s Crystal, however, that reluctantly takes up the mantle as the temperate survivor who peers right through the facade of this ploy, and acts accordingly. She’s the level-headed quick thinker that you want on your side to make smart, rational decisions when things go south. The “GLOW” actress’s deadpan delivery is incredibly entertaining, playing on the mysterious reasoning for her unwilling participation. While everyone else contemplates what may have led them there, she’s just doing what needs to be done to be, you know, not dead with an arrow in the chest. 

“The Hunt” is a cute distraction, while “The Purge” films, especially “The First Purge,” is Blumhouse’s reigning champion of piercing political satire. Even Sophia Takal’s reimagining of “Black Christmas,” despite its narrative shortcomings, had a sharper critical edge pointed towards its intended target. Zobel’s film doesn’t feature any meaningful introspection about the damage being done by the cheerleaders of the current U.S. administration but rather the quick-to-judge nature of social media and its exaggerated ripple effects.

The ‘deplorables’ are casually racist, climate change-denying hicks who label the situation ‘Manorgate’ in reference to the ludicrous ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory. The ‘liberal elites,’ meanwhile, are privileged, righteous white people (Hilary Swank, Glenn Howerton, etc.) who are in way over their heads — one of them even proudly proclaiming “Oh, Ava DuVernay just liked my tweet.” There came a point where it was clear that “The Hunt” would only take surface-level blows with little substance beyond securing a laugh, and it works at times. 

The Hunt
HIlary Swank as Athena | Photo credit: Universal Pictures

It’s difficult to take Zobel’s film even remotely seriously after the film’s comically blood-soaked opening. A recent Fangoria cover heavily teased a brutal death of cartoonish proportions, and boy did it live up to that front. A heel to the eyeball here, a pit of spikes there; it’s all in suitably gnarly fun. Practical gore, for the most part, spurts across the screen like a kid spraying people with a garden hose. The handsomely shot film excels when it’s left to its own grisly devices. 

Sharp and concise, “The Hunt” is not. It’s bound, by proxy, to push some buttons on both sides of the aisle. Zobel’s thesis about party divide ultimately boils down to a shrug where inaction triumphs above all else, and nothing really matters, ultimately playing favorites to no one which can be kind of a problem. Just sit back and revel in the carnage.

“The Hunt” is in theaters now.

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