Monday, April 5, 2021

All Hunts Matter

Like many a genre film fan, I love nothing more than a good hunting humans flick. Battle Royale, The Human Race, The Belko Experiment, Surviving the Game, The Hunger Games for the kiddos. No year passes by without me watching The Running Man, only to immediately search for any new genre films like it that I might have missed.

No one would miss The Hunt this year. In any other time, this dark comedy would probably have fought to make back its budget in theaters, maybe garnering a loyal fandom once it hit streaming sites. Instead, the Blumhouse original infamously became another chip in political debates and later, the first major American release to be directly affected by COVID-19.

It's a weird journey for a genre film. 

Quick Plot: A fancy private jet filled with wealthy snobs gets a shake when a man who was clearly supposed to be in a deep sleep awakens in terror. One of the passengers kills him, much to the annoyance of his fellow passengers.

We shift to an open field and a crate full of some confused and gagged deplorables. Before we even learn their names, most of them are gunned down or, preferably, blown up.

Maybe I'm just a simple, simple woman, but I have a very hard time not finding self explosions very, very funny.

Very quickly, our batch of unsuspecting prey gets whittled down to a small handful. They seek shelter in a roadside convenience store only to finally learn the game they're playing: it's a hunt, set somewhere in eastern Europe, and the rules are...well, the rules are simply that there are some angry, wealthy Americans trying to kill you.

The sharpest of the scant batch of survivors is Snowball, or at least, that's the name bestowed up on her by the team of wealthy liberals hunting her. Snowball (the perfection that is fellow Fordham University alumni Betty Gilpin) is a tough talking southerner with skills that would make the most experienced marine envious.

By now, you probably know quite a bit about The Hunt, or at least, have heard the title thrown around in a whole lot of news stories over the past year. Written by Damon Lindelof and his Lost co-writer Carlon Cuse's son Nick Cuse and directed by Compliance's Craig Zobel, The Hunt's initial theatrical release was famously delayed because its marketing campaign and subject matter seemed in poor taste following a pair of mass shootings. It went on to open just as the rest of the country was closing, making it instead of the first big screen releases to have a VOD showing while it was in theaters.

There's something very interesting about how The Hunt became such a hot potato of American cultural debate, particularly because as a film, it's aggressively committed to being so politically apolical. Using the South Park school of making anyone with extreme views look like a buffoon, it's almost as if the writers kept a scoreboard to make sure that liberal and conservatives were being equally skewered at all times.

I was hesitant to watch The Hunt not because of its politics (or lack thereof) but because I couldn't imagine not being distracted by the pile of baggage that came with the film. I rather liked Zobel's Compliance, but some of megaproducer Jason Blum's comments during the frenzied press calls came off as smug in a way that I assumed would be fitting to the film.

Thankfully, The Hunt is - and I realize this is an odd thing to say about a movie with this history - a really good time. Yes, some of the attempts at coating its red vs. blue characters in silly hypocrisy comes across as forced, but the action moves so swiftly that you barely have time to roll your eyes before someone's head is being blown off.

Most importantly, it cannot be overstated how much Betty Gilpin brings to this movie. There's something to be said when you watch a performance and realize no other actor would have played it the same way. Whether she's telling her favorite childhood fable or being unimpressed with Hilary Swank's culinary advice, she just brings such a fresh energy that elevates the entire film.

High Points
Give. Betty. Gilpin. An. Action. Franchise. Now.

Low Points
Much like South Park, there's something a bit exhausting and unsatisfying in the nature of a film being so committed to not committing to anything. It's important for The Hunt, and truthfully, I'd probably be even harder on it had it swung any further right OR left, but there's still something a bit hard to swallow with that school of attitude

Lessons Learned
If you know you're crazy, you're just really mad

The only way to properly slice tomatoes is with a bread knife

Always ask before eating the cookies

If you can unhear all the arguments that erupted during The Hunt's heavy press days, head to Hulu and have a watch. This is a fun movie made with some wildly goofy energy, and while its broad characterizations can be a little much at times, its humor overcomes most of the flaws. It's a good, weird time. 


  1. I'm still circling this one...
    The 'murder-hunt game' is a sub-genre that I'm always a bit squicky about. Maybe because the IRL audience for reality-based competitions are already mean-spirited enough that such things seem plausible.

    My own favorite though, is Series 7: The Contenders. It's properly dark and bleak, rather than overtly wacky (but still funny). Also, it's old and creaky and probably funny now in ways it didn't intend.

    1. I don't have words for how much I adore Series 7. It was somehow made before reality TV mean anything, and anticipated everything that came. Brooke Smith gives one of my all-time favorite genre performances in that movie. It's such a gem!