GORE IN THE STORE
THE HUNT ****
Directed by Craig Zobel.
Starring Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Glenn Howerton.
Horror/Comedy, U.S. 89 minutes.
In cinemas 11th March from Universal Pictures.
The Hunt finally arrives in cinemas under a cloud of controversy. Originally due to be released last autumn its distributors pulled the film after the recent spate of mass shootings that had occurred in Ohio and Texas. It was then that several Republicans slammed the film and its premise of elite liberals hunting down their political opposites. The fact that the film is satirical seemed not to matter or went entirely over their heads. Especially President Donald Trump, who presumably had nothing to do at work that day, tweeted “The movie coming out is made to inflame and cause chaos. They create violence and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!” Direct quote.
It is a provocative premise, but thanks to Damon Lindeloff and Nick Cuse’s script, it never comes across as polemical. It manages to skewer both sides of the political spectrum for the recent near hysteria that has become all too prevalent in nearly all aspects of Western politics. Using the trope of hunting humans for sport in cinema goes back to 1932’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and through the years has given us such blood-soaked pleasures as THE RUNNING MAN, John Woo’s HARD TARGET featuring a never more mulleted Jean Claude Van Damme and Brian Trenchard Smith’s gonzo TURKEY SHOOT. THE HUNT flips the protagonist/antagonist axis on its head by having the hunters venting their liberal outrage on unsuspecting civilians who wake up gagged in a field. Believing themselves to be part of some Deep State operation called Manorgate and marked out as “deplorables” they waste no time in arming and defending themselves, as is their constitutional right.
Without getting into spoiler territory, it can be said that things do not run smoothly for either side. The film delights in wrong-footing its audience not only with its plot developments but with its shifting partisinal viewpoint. Suffice to say neither party comes out particularly well. The obnoxiousness of guns right activism runs right into the extremities of online cancel culture, amongst other ridiculous aspects. Stuck in the middle of this chaos is Crystal, Betty Gilpin, whose quiet manner hides an all too lethal killer instinct. As an audience surrogate, she is easy to root for, seemingly at odds with both sides and displaying a common sense amongst her other considerable skills. Why she has been chosen to take part in such an elaborate punishment also helps to plant seeds of doubt as to who she is exactly and if she should be seen as such a clear cut heroine.
Director Craig Zobel made his name with previous works that confront the audience about right or wrong in provocative situations. His 2012 feature COMPLIANCE managed to make prank calling a fast food restaurant into a guilt-ridden examination of how far people can be pushed and goaded into situations seemingly without resistance. Here he seems to delight in showing the decline of American politics and the possible effect it may have on society through the lens of satire. It is a blunt examination to be sure and one that may come across as shallow the more you think of it, but it is never less than entertaining with its blood-splattered surprises amongst its always amusing tone.
THE HUNT is an exciting take on an old staple. How it will go down with either equally ridiculed side of its home country should make for interesting feedback in the months ahead. Indeed it may even make for light relief as both sides prepare for the next forthcoming election.