‘The Hunt’ Loses Its Promise of Wicked Satire Beneath Piles of Gore
A basic premise of satire is that you should be able to make fun of anything. “The Hunt” makes fun of several buzzwords but it’s really just about basking in gore and mayhem. It arrives with a small measure of infamy after its original release late last year was scrapped following a tweet by Trump slamming the film as evidence of liberal disdain for the common folk. Universal and Blumhouse are now advertising this as the most talked about movie of the year, as one of those films with a hint of danger. “The Hunt” would be worthy of the hype of it was actually provocative, but for all its bloodshed it actually plays it safe.
Somewhere in the woods a group of “deplorables” awaken to discover they’ve been abandoned with nothing but a giant wooden crate. Once the crate opens a small pig in a t-shirt runs out and a cache of weapons is revealed. Now armed the working class victims realize they are actually being hunted. One by one they get blown up with grenades, shot with arrows, blasted away with shotguns, or poisoned at a fake gas station. Left standing is Crystal (Betty Gilpin), who locked and loaded prepares to take on a group of rich liberals behind the terror. This more refined group is led by businesswoman Athena (Hilary Swank), who with some fellow environmentally-conscious, conservative-hating snobs has had enough of the lower class’ uncouth ways and will take off the annoyance by wiping them out.
Had Trump’s twitter-happy fingers said nothing about “The Hunt” it would have gone down as just another B-level action romp. Director Craig Zobel gets the order wrong and puts the violence before the satire. Zobel has proven to be a filmmaker of sharp tension before. His 2012 “Compliance,” based on the true story of a fast food worker’s terrifying ordeal involving a prank call, evoked claustrophobia and intensity without any violence. It was all about the feeling of entrapment and blindly obeying authority. “The Hunt” has a wicked idea at its core. Most popcorn movies tapping into our current political predicament focus on the elites as reactionary conservatives, this one dares to make well-off liberals the villains. But it’s a point that’s never clearly brought home.
The screenplay is by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, who have delivered much richer fare for HBO in the form of “Watchmen,” and “The Leftovers.” Alas they merely flirt with being edgy. The best laughs are when the movie stops the gore and pokes at some of our current catch phrases. Two older liberal hunters, Pop (Reed Birney) and Ma (Amy Madigan), poison and shoot some deplorables in their store and snarl, “global warming is real asshole!” The rest of the gang of elites all have hilariously shameless names like State Island (Ike Barinholtz), Liberty (Teri Wyble) and Crisis Mike (Usman Ally), who is the token minority in the group of otherwise white privilege. But we barely get to spend time with them except for two scenes, one where they are sitting in a foxhole waiting for their prey and another in a flashback revealing their rather disappointing reasons for initiating the human safari, more on that later. In these moments there are yet again a few flashes of vicious intentions in the humor, like two of the liberals arguing over the need to help Haiti, or Ma and Pop debating whether it’s appropriate to use the term “black people.” The deplorables are also given little time to truly represent their side. They too have absurdly stereotyped titles like Yoga Pants (Emma Roberts), Vanilla Nice (Sturgill Simpson) and Rannndeeee (Jason Kirkpatrick). Some have their own conspiracy radio shows and believe immigrants carry “crisis babies.” Yet Zobel never lets these satirical creations really become commentaries or symbols like in a much superior satire like “Idiocracy.”
What “The Hunt” is heavy on is lots of chaos and blood. The opening scene alone features people blown to bits by landmines, demolished torsos stuck on spikes, heads exploded by gunfire or run over by Crystal. But it’s not balanced with the message, it overtakes it. If in a classic like “Natural Born Killers” the violence carries forth the idea, here Zobel would rather spend time with extreme killings in order to avoid truly making a movie with a point, unless the point is that liberals and conservatives are both idiots worthy of a grenade. If that’s the message it’s a cheap cop out. Countless movies are already made where characters get annihilated for no reason other than mere entertainment. A bone-crushing fight between Crystal and Athena ends with the realization both have read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” and to be honest both don’t seem to understand the novel. Even the reasons why these particular liberals decide to hunt down these average Joe types is a sugar-coated disappointment. Spoiler ahead: They simply texted each other a joke about hunting deplorables, the text was leaked and went viral and resulted in the liberals getting fired. So they decide to get some payback by kidnapping conservatives who specifically made fun of them online over the text. For all its hype “The Hunt” turns out to not be a real assault on a particular social class, because any gang of weirdos can get together to plot murder. It also turns out much of the action doesn’t even take place in America, but in Croatia for unexplainable reasons. The only real winner in this whole movie is the stewardess who flies Athena’s plane and gets to try the caviar right before the end credits.
It must be said that those viewers seeking pure violence, firearms and repetitive gore will find what they’re looking for in “The Hunt.” But beneath its pile of guts is a missed opportunity. As the German critic Kurt Tucholsky once wrote, “the times are screaming for satire.” There should be edgy art about the times we are enduring, especially in an election season. You can certainly find much to say about elites who pose as humanist liberals while being total hypocrites (as in any group). But this picking is pure exploitation made relevant only because it happened to go viral thanks to our twitter-in-chief.
“The Hunt” opens March 13 in theaters nationwide.