This review is being republished for The Hunt‘s VOD release.
The Pitch: Twelve strangers wake up in a wide clearing. Some are already running. A few are stumbling around confused. All of them have been gagged. Right smack in the middle of the field is a large, wooden box. The box has weapons. Lots of dangerous weapons. Guns. Knives. Heavy artillery. These will all prove useful. For some. Because, almost immediately, shots are fired. A few people die. Hideously. The hunt is on.
The Most Dangerous Gag: From here until all streaming conglomerates have dissolved and there’s no media left to worship, The Hunt will forever be remembered for being canceled amidst a most torturous time in America. The idea of a bunch of elites gunning down “deplorables” — to borrow from the film, don’t @ me — wasn’t what America needed. A few months later? Sure, why not. Regardless, it all seems like a bunch of hullabaloo for nothing. Because really, gun violence doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, and sadly, neither is the gaping divide across America. Oh well.
In that respect, The Hunt seems like a timely romp on American circumstances right now. Or maybe even the world if you wanna wave your hands around and get ambitious. It’s a boisterous mix of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” and Eli Roth’s Hostel, only heavily lacquered with rage-fueled satire. Longtime pals and scribes Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof make no effort to dial down the ham-fisted nature of this thing, biting their thumbs to the bone at both sides of America as they cram all of the buzz words you’ll find on Twitter day in and day out of our Western hell.
And that’s the point. Scoff, roll your eyes, and shrug all you want, but the hyperbolic nature of The Hunt is all part of the fun, and whether you take this literally, or metaphorically, rhetorically, spiritually, whatever, it all boils down to a big ol’ sensationalized portrait of a very heated country. In this world, the idea of canceling the despicable goes beyond the Mute, Block, or Report functionality and on to, you know, shotguns, grenades, and blender blades. For some, it might seem a tad elementary; for others, it might be a release; for a few, it might comes off as profane.
But it’s hardly uneventful. No, quite the opposite. The Hunt is a total thrill ride, the exact kind of politically charged rollercoaster that Blumhouse has been trying to nail down to success for the past few months. Politics aside, Cuse and Lindelof deliver exactly the kind of popcorn fodder you want from the distributor, and director Craig Zobel lenses the survival thriller with a very aristocratic wash, something akin to HBO’s Succession even. This is a sharp looking gag, and it never lets up, moving at a fast clip as we watch the cast desperately scramble for survival.
The Hunted: What a cast Blumhouse has assembled. Emma Roberts adds more horror to her story. Ike Barinholtz flexes his action muscle (who knew). Justin Hartley dials back to his Green Arrow days. Macon Blair continues to surround himself with ultra-violence. Hilary Swank hams it up beautifully. Hell, even Amy Madigan stops by to make us go, “Oh, we should watch Field of Dreams later.” Everyone’s great, everyone’s game, and everyone’s clearly having fun chewing the screen. But none of them hold a candle to Betty Gilpin.
Blame it on the three — soon-to-be four — seasons of Netflix’s G.L.O.W., where she mercilessly beats Alison Brie to a pulp nearly every episode, but Gilpin is an action star. Not just for the role; it’s in her blood. As Crystal, she immediately takes charge in The Hunt, owning the territory like all the great protagonists ably do in every John Carpenter genre picture. There’s a swagger to her demeanor that’s both instant and earned, and watching her kick, punch, shoot, and bludgeon her way through every scene is admittedly the greatest hallmark of the flick.
Especially the finale. Oh boy, wanna talk about YouTube-able moments, this finale is one of ’em. Cuse and Lindelof give their Tarantino best in this final curtain call, and while the dialogue isn’t nearly as revelatory as it thinks it is, the performances embellish every word. Mostly because every word is being tossed around with household objects that’ll make you wince the next time you walk by a Williams-Sonoma. Zobel shoots close enough to feel every ghastly wound, and because the stakes feel so high from the get-go, you shudder and wince through it all.
The Verdict: Isn’t that what you want, though? The thrill of it all? Sure you do. Look, it doesn’t take a college grad to see right through the political allusions of this thing, and once you realize all the pedantic Orwellian nods are as hollow as the shells on the ground, you’ll stop foaming and start smiling. And, to be frank for a moment, it’s not like they’re totally wrong, either. We’re living in an exhausting era where communication affords zero room for nuance; Cuse and Lindelof are simply capitalizing on it, and, well, they definitely get the most bang for their buck. Take it with a truckload of salt, or maybe, just maybe, walk out of the thing realizing, at some point, we’re all self-righteous assholes. Either/or.
Where’s It Playing? The Hunt is finally out in theaters on March 13th.