Wednesday, January 06, 2021

"The Hunt": review

The genre-straddling "The Hunt" is a 2020 action-horror-comedy heavily laced with political themes.  Directed by Craig Zobel and starring Betty Gilpin, "The Hunt" tells the story of rich liberal elites who engage in a slaughter of conservative hicks and bumpkins that they kidnap, drug, and plop down in a quasi-wilderness setting.  The political-satire element of the movie comes through in its dialogue, and both sides are equally lampooned:  the righties make unenlightened comments about "immigrants" and "Jew boys"; the lefties spew scorn at the "deplorables" while virtue-signaling about pet causes and gingerly trying to avoid gendered language like "Hey, guys!" when women are present.

"The Hunt" works as satire, although its plot probably has a few holes in it that don't bear close examination.  What the movie does well, though, is build character for the principals:  Betty Gilpin plays tough-as-nails protagonist Crystal Creasey, and Hilary Swank is nasty liberal sleaze Athena Stone, a CEO who enjoys killing people for fun.  The script does a very good job of getting us to root for Crystal and to despise Athena, so I suppose it's safe to say that, despite the generally balanced satire in the characters' dialogue, the movie shows its bias through whom it portrays as good and evil.

One thing I found absolutely praiseworthy is how Crystal reveals who she is through a show-don't-tell sequence of events.  From very early on, we can see that she's quiet and observant, which is in contrast to all the other, more talkative victims.  She approaches her ordeal stoically, despite starting the movie with a padlocked gag belted around her head.  She shows she's capable of recognizing tripwires and other booby traps, she can sense imminent danger, she shows proficiency in unarmed combat, and she demonstrates an easy competence with a variety of firearms and bladed weapons.  Within minutes, I could tell that all signs pointed to military veteran, and dialogue later in the story confirmed this suspicion.  While I'd love to credit my own deductive skills in figuring this out about Crystal, it's the script itself that does a fine job of allowing us to put the pieces together.

I described the movie as an action-horror-comedy.  There's plenty of action as we watch Crystal and the other deplorables try to figure their way out of their situation—they're seemingly on a patch of ground in Arkansas, complete with nearby railroad tracks, a parked pickup truck, and a country-style general store run by a kindly old couple (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney).  The horror comes from the atmosphere of paranoia the movie generates:  the deplorables, as they make their way around the terrain, quickly realize (or fail to realize, with deadly consequences) they can trust none of the locals.  Horror also comes in the form of sudden bouts of gore as, one by one, the deplorables meet a violent end, with Crystal in the role of a horror-movie "final girl," albeit a final girl capable of dealing out her own horrors as she Rambos her way through the rich yet poorly combat-trained liberals hunting her.  The comedy comes mostly from Crystal herself; actress Betty Gilpin's line delivery is often hilarious, as are the lines she utters, which reflect the horrifically preposterous nature of the situation Crystal finds herself in:  she's living through the scenario laid out in Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game."

As a political satire, "The Hunt" fares less well, mainly because it traffics in straw-man stereotypes of the right and the left.  Of course, a fever-brained leftie watching the movie will be convinced that the racist-asshole righties on screen are accurately portrayed, and vice versa for frothing-rightie viewers, but calmer heads will realize that these characters don't represent any sort of middle ground—except maybe for Crystal herself, who comes off as politically, well, bland.  Right now, in early 2021, the USA is deeply divided along political lines, and for me, that's what makes "The Hunt" more significant than it might otherwise be:  by some accounts, my country is standing on the brink of moving from a cold civil war to a hot one, i.e., one involving physical violence and death.  Viewed through that lens, "The Hunt" could be seen as a discomfiting prophecy about the near future.  I hope to God that isn't the case.

However scary "The Hunt" might be, though, I'd have to call it a thoroughly entertaining movie.  Hilary Swank is a great villainess (she was a good sport to play such a hateful role), and she even gets her own comic moments during the final fight with Crystal.  "The Hunt" is full of implausibilities and ridiculous moments, but it's well acted, well shot, and probably not too interested in saying anything deep aside from "You guys are all assholes."  It's not worth all the controversy that surrounded it when it first came out, and while it barely made back its production cost in box-office revenue, I hope it has a long and profitable life on home video.  If you're looking for bloody action laced with satirical humor and horror, "The Hunt" will be right up your alley.  I enjoyed it.


John Mac said...

Thanks for this, I'd heard about the movie and controversy but didn't really have the full picture. And yes, the extremists on both ends of the spectrum are deserving of ridicule.

Still, it is disconcerting when prominent lefties are calling for prison and/or re-education camps for those with opposing viewpoints. Scary times indeed!

John from Daejeon said...

I enjoyed it, too.

John Mac, I wonder if the left will just try and farm Trump supporters out to those Chinese re-education/indoctrination/slave labor camps that they don't seem all that vocal about and the main stream media doesn't often report on.

Kevin Kim said...

I try not to turn my movie reviews into lengthy political discourses, but had I done so in this case, I'd have talked about the Overton Window, and about the far left's influence over the left in general. When crazy becomes normalized, all bets are off.

John from Daejeon said...

I just realized why I enjoyed the flick so much. I'd seen it a year before it came out. Only then, it was called Ready or Not with Samara Weaving in the Betty Gilpin role. Both were quite believable as competent leads.

Kevin Kim said...

Daejeon John,

I was wondering whether to watch "Ready or Not." So I gather you recommend it.