Released: 13th March
Seen: 18th April
The most controversial movie of the last decade is easily The Hunt. Easily, just based upon the reaction its trailer got alone it will go down as being one of the most controversial films in history, alongside its controversy cousin The Interview. Much like The Interview, the film became a major discussion piece throughout pop culture due to its subject matter and the trailer used to promote it. What else makes it just like The Interview? The fact that the controversy was obscenely stupid on every front and was a vast overreaction by everyone involved. Guess who gets to talk about politics in a review of a film in the year 2020? BECAUSE THIS YEAR DOESN’T SUCK ENOUGH ALREADY!
The Hunt is, effectively, a very loose retelling of The Most Dangerous Game, begins with 12 people waking up in the middle of a field with gags in their mouths. Shortly after they find guns (and a very adorable pig named Orwell because this film really likes dropping references to Animal Farm every chance it can get) they also find that they’re being hunted. Turns out these 12 people who are waking up in a field could clearly colloquially be called ‘deplorables’ and they are being hunted by ‘the elite’. Yep, it’s Republicans vs Democrats in this violent game of cat and mouse and god I wish they had gone further with the idea and actually dignified the controversy with a reason to exist.
Let’s just get the controversy out of the way, this film got pulled from its release schedule because a certain someone who is in charge of a certain country (I AM BEING THE MOST RESTRAINED PERSON EVER RIGHT NOW) got really upset about a film that appeared to be hunting his supporters… what is neglected in this discussion is that makes those ‘deplorables’ the heroes of the film who we are asked to root for. You, the audience, are asked to empathise with people who you might have a serious political disagreement with because they are currently being hunted by something far worse. This would be like suggesting that the Friday the 13th movies are attacks against Camp Counsellors. They’re not and to think that is to misunderstand the very idea of how stories work.
This film is very blunt in how it’s painting everyone. The deplorables are sympathetic and scared while the elites are cold and calculating and also murderous. This film is a goddamn cartoon in every possible way, short of actually just making it animated. It’s a film with dialogue like “He probably uses the N-word, not just in private but on twitter” which should probably give you a hint this film is not meant to be taken seriously. It’s a broad pisstake of how divided we are along party lines, it’s liberals and conservatives arguing at a rally taken to the extreme.
It’s trying to take potshots at everyone and screams “Hey, this insane fighting we’re doing is dumb and maybe you shouldn’t do it” at every chance which is great, but it’s so broad that it’s all surface-level barbs. The deplorables are revealed to be homophobes and bigots, they hunt rhinos for sport and wave the confederate flag, all stuff worthy of mockery but maybe go a little deeper than that? Maybe reveal it a little earlier than the last act with a bit more intention instead of just glossing over glossy photos so we can barely catch what they did, making it hard to have the intended reaction of “Oh, they actually were horrible people… who still didn’t deserve that”.
I don’t want to be too negative on this film because even with everything I just said (and more I’ll get to in a minute) there is actually a fair amount of fun here. I compared this to a cartoon for a reason, it’s not a subtle movie and almost revels in just seeing how over the top it can be. The scenes where the characters we’re asked to empathise with (the deplorables) are engaging and you root for them to survive. Some we only get to know for 10 minutes (this film does not want you to be safe in assuming who is going to be sticking around for the whole film) but we still root for them based purely off the performances by this sublime cast.
There’s a genuinely large amount of great laughs and jokes fired from all sides at all sides. A personal favourite moment is when a pair of old liberals have a discussion about if they should say “Black” or “African-American” and justify the answer by saying it’s what was used on NPR, before realising that NPR is mostly white people. It’s not that the film can’t land a punch, it absolutely can. It can make fun of how over the top certain Liberals can be around being ‘woke’ and can make fun of how some Conservatives can fall for conspiracy theories. It can land the punch and mock them for their flaws, but it can’t say anything about them other than “This is dumb” and after a while that stops being as effective.
Going back to the cast for a minute, every single person is at their best but Betty Gilpin is fast becoming one of those actresses who should just be put in things because she makes them better by her very existence. She was the best part of another recent film Coffee & Kareem and she’s the best part of this film. She barely has any lines but she’s tough as nails and smart as hell and everything she does is actual magic. She’s basically carrying the film, even though she doesn’t need to do any heavy lifting because everyone is working at their best but she’s just better than everyone and makes the film fun to watch.
There’s the weirdest part of this, the film is genuinely fun and probably would’ve just been remembered as “A fun movie with some social commentary slapped on” but sadly, never underestimate how easily offended some people can be because now we have to take this film seriously despite it not being a serious film. I keep coming back to everything just being very surface level, to the point where I’m stunned there wasn’t an extended soy joke (though someone probably said soyboy in passing and I might not’ve noticed, but maybe the writers were blessedly ignorant of that topic).
I wanted this film to actually call some shit out. Have someone make an argument, don’t hold back. If you’re going to be political, be goddamn political. Be pointed, be focussed, be sharp about your satire when you’re touching on something like this… cos all this controversy just ends up feeling like it’s been built up just as promotion and it wasn’t. It was accidental and everyone saw the surface and got upset before realising the surface isn’t hiding much, other than a middle finger and a cry of “You all look so stupid right now”.
The Hunt is honestly just fine. It would’ve probably been forgotten within a month and isn’t going to last long in the memory but it’s fine. You’ve got some good effects, great performances and the occasional witty piece of dialogue… but it’s not world-changing. OK, maybe it was world-changing in a way (by accident) but it really shouldn’t be based on its actual content. It’s mostly kinda fun and over the top without having much to it. It’s going to age so damn quickly, that much I’m confident in. When the rental price is lower you can check it out for yourself and realise that it’s all surface, the narrative asks us to sympathise with the people who thought it was attacking them and that it’s no more intense than any other slasher movie. I can’t say that I dislike it, I just wish it was willing to go further on both sides and actually leave a mark. Now, can we please just get to the end of 2020 without any more films about modern-day politics because my blood pressure can’t handle much more of this irritation!