The Hunt’s controversial history makes it sound a lot edgier than it actually is. Publicly criticized by President Donald Trump (“The movie… is made in order to inflame and cause chaos.”), Universal Pictures canceled its original release in September 2019. Now it’s finally coming out, and while it does involve “liberal elites” hunting working-class Americans for sport, it’s not exactly condoning their behavior. It’s a satirical horror story in a similar vein to The Purge, but with the sophistication of a B-list SNL sketch. Directed by Craig Zobel and co-written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse (Watchmen), the more entertaining elements keep getting tripped up by cringey dialogue full of dated buzzwords like “snowflake” and “deplorable.
DIRECTOR: Craig Zobel
Satirizing America’s political divide, ‘The Hunt’ sees wealthy ‘liberal elites’ hunt working-class ‘deplorables.’ The action/horror scenes are great, but it’s a clumsy piece of social commentary.
Get Out is the gold standard for this kind of movie, revealing the monstrousness of a wealthy white family who hide their sadistic racism beneath a liberal facade. Outside the horror genre, Knives Out explored how a similar family abandoned their paper-thin values as soon as their wealth was threatened, banding together against the film’s Latina heroine. If you’re looking for something more lowbrow, the Purge franchise is far more insightful than its reputation suggests, and last year’s Ready or Not was a terrifically fun horror-comedy about a woman whose snobbish in-laws try to murder her. When it comes to modern riffs on The Most Dangerous Game, The Hunt is entering a crowded field. And by comparison to the movies we already have, it’s a little embarrassing.
Crystal (Betty Gilpin) leads an ensemble cast of “deplorables” kidnapped by a group of rich assholes for a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Dumped in the middle of nowhere with a crate of weapons, they have to escape armed hunters and booby traps—an opening sequence that echoes The Hunger Games, another political thriller with more interesting things to say about class divides in America. Gilpin’s performance is what makes The Hunt worthwhile, a taciturn figure with excellent survival skills compared to her fellow victims. She’s really the only one with a layered role here, since the other characters follow basic stereotypes.
The kidnap victims are white and mostly working-class—including a tattooed Floridian, a mulleted redneck, and a racist podcaster—and they’re prone to mouthing off about right-wing conspiracy theories. Meanwhile the rich hunters are what you’d expect (spoiled, self-absorbed and callous), dehumanizing their victims while claiming to have progressive values. They only choose white victims because they don’t want to seem racist, and their conversations are littered with little debates about politically correct terminology. Is it better to say Black or African American? Is it sexist to refer to a mixed-gender group as “guys”? Get Out and Knives Out both poked fun at the hypocrisy of their wealthy liberal villains, but The Hunt’s jokes feel more like a conservative commentator sneering about virtue signaling.
At the same time, The Hunt doesn’t have much respect for its conservative characters, either. The deplorables are mostly cannon-fodder compared to Crystal, who is admittedly awesome… but whose political role highlights a childish “both sides” message. She, the hero, is the only major character who doesn’t espouse a clean-cut set of political values, and her socioeconomic background is far less obvious. She’s the magically neutral middle ground, a self-sufficient white woman in the middle of a war between the evil 1% and the unwashed masses. Since The Hunt was written by Watchmen’s showrunner and co-producer, you have to wonder about the obvious difference in quality. Perhaps this is just what happens when Damon Lindelof writes a Trump-era political satire without the assistance of a racially diverse writers’ room.
The Hunt works much better during the straightforward action scenes. Crystal falls somewhere between John McClane and Jason Bourne: a badass everywoman with offbeat facial expressions and an innate sense of justice. Betty Gilpin (who stars in Netflix’s wrestling dramedy GLOW) excels during hand-to-hand combat sequences, while the more extreme violence is too absurd to be disturbing. Compared to other Blumhouse releases, it’s more comedy-thriller than particularly gruesome or suspenseful horror.
Over the coming weeks, people are going to weigh the risk of going to a crowded movie theater full of potentially infectious strangers. In that context, The Hunt really doesn’t feel like essential viewing. It’s fairly entertaining aside from the clumsier attempts at social commentary, but if you’re looking for a horror-comedy with political themes, there are plenty of better options available to stream at home.