The Hunt is one of 2019’s most controversial films… well, not really, but the release was originally pulled from the Universal Pictures release schedule due to the backlash from social media because of the content of the film. Obviously, the film got a wide release recently (though not at a great time – more on this in a minute) and, as a big horror film fan, I offered to take a look and share my thoughts.
Before we get into the content of the film, I do want to talk a little about the long and winding road that the film took to get released:
First, the decision from the studio to pull the movie seemed strange to me, as we recently had films like Ready Or Not in 2019 about a wealthy family hunting a bride-to-be, Beyond the Reach in 2014 about the wealthy Michael Douglas hunting a wilderness guide and Happy Hunting in 2016 about a small town that hunts drifters and homeless people.
To be fair (besides Ready Or Not) many/most of the “Humans Hunting Humans” films are straight-to-VOD horror and might not get the same attention as a wider release. That said, if the protesters were really that upset about the content of a fictional piece of art showing violence against humans, then they would have to protest 90% of all feature films released – from John Wick to The Incredibles 2. Pick and choose which stupid hill you die on, I suppose.
My point is, The Hunt, about a group of ruthless elitists who hunt humans for sport, should not have caused the outrage that it did. However, the internet is a cruel mistress and when it chooses something to hate or a cause to get behind (good or bad) there are no half-measures. The pushback was so intense that it caused the film to be delayed until March where it had the unfortunate luck to run right into the global Coronavirus epidemic.
Secondly, we should look at the new marketing strategy for the film, as this may mark a new era for feature film releases. For those of you unaware, films like The Hunt and the recent The Invisible Man are now available to rent on streaming (you can find The Hunt on Amazon HERE) just a few days after the wide theatrical release. That is how I was able to watch it for this review, and if it does well on VOD release, it will be yet another devastating blow to cinemas who are already bleeding customers.
I am not an alarmist and I don’t want anyone to think that I am advocating for the closure of theaters or the death of the traditional cinematic experience; I love going to the movies and always have, but I am all for theaters getting a wakeup call *cough* Cinemark *cough* that they must start respecting their customers and avoid doing things like showing ten minutes of paid commercials before, during, and after movie trailers. Movie theaters are now at a crossroads and they need to fight for preserving the movie-going experience or they will go the way of the Dodo.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into The Hunt!
*NOTE: I will keep this review intentionally vague, as I do not want to spoil anything for those of you who want to see the film. In addition to that, it is a feature film co-written and produced by Damon Lindelof (Lost, Watchmen, The Leftovers) so there are plenty of twists and storytelling methods utilized that play with genre conventions and the expected story structure which I do not want to ruin.
Our film begins with a resounding musical overture in the office of Hilary Swank, our main baddie, who is in a group text message chain with her friends. They are discussing how they are excited about killing “Deplorables” and ready to start “The Hunt”.
Then we cut to a plane where Dennis Reynolds is pontificating about how wealthy and pretentious he is when one of his “Passengers” wakes up. Turns out, the Elites drugged and kidnapped a group of people for their “Hunt” and have decided to transport them on the same plane to the estate where the “Hunting” will take place. Needless to say, the baddies have to kill the early riser and we quickly learn that these villains are not the “Super-macho” types, but dweebish socialites who want to play big baddie.
And then we are with our heroes as they wake up gagged in an empty field with a bunch of guns. These “heroes” are Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts, That Dude from Neighbors (Ike Barinholtz) and some other warm bodies who are just there to up the kill-count. Sticking to the trope of “Group of Strangers Wake Up in Compromising Situation” none of our main cast knows how they got here or why they are here.
I had an issue with this, as we, the audience, know exactly why these people are here, so there is little to no mystery for us – though things get cooking pretty quickly.
One thing I did like, however, is that this is a film that lets you know very quickly that all bets are off – in the same way Scream killed Drew Barrymore in the first minutes, we are introduced to several celebrity cameos who do not make it through the opening salvo of bullets and blood.
We also get the setup for a love story, with the heroic lead character trying to protect the innocent blonde girl, but that goes sideways very quickly in another middle finger to typical survival-horror tropes.
Our narrative takes some twists and turns and goes in some unexpected directions, so I will leave the description there. Though I did like the reversals throughout the film, such as why Betty Gilpin decides to get revenge on her tormentors.
But for now, let’s talk about other aspects of the film!
There are some fun set-pieces, one involving an assault on an elite bunker using a pig (you’ll have to see it to understand) and a long final fight between our hero and our main antagonist. For the most part, these were well-shot and brutal and did exactly what they needed to do in terms of pushing the narrative forward.
And gore hounds and horror fans will get their money’s worth as there is a very high body count in this film, complete with people being shot, stabbed, and blown to pieces.
If you think naming a character “Dead Sexy” and then killing said character immediately after she is introduced is funny, then this is your movie. It is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them and the humor is pitch black.
Another example (and one that made me laugh out loud) is when our heroes open the trunk of a car to find the dead body of one of their friends and then have this exchange:
Nope, that’s Gary.
Betty Gilpin is fantastic as the badass hero of the film, but this shouldn’t be a surprise if you have seen the Netflix show Glow which she stars in.
Hillary Swank seems to be having a lot of fun with her role, but she never really gets to do more than be an over-the-top villain with a pretty questionable motivation.
The supporting cast is fun and what you would expect:
Dennis Reynolds is smarmy.
The Dude from Neighbors (Ike Barinholtz) is manic.
Ethan Suplee pretty much plays his character from My Name is Earl (He is listed in the IMDB credits as (Shut the F**K Up) Gary) but is a fun Robin for Betty Gilpin’s Batman.
What I did like about this film is that it takes no prisoners and pokes fun at everyone on all sides of the political divide.
That said, sometimes things are very on-the-nose: The killers say things like: “I’m a godless elite.” Or “Climate Change is real!” before murdering their victims.
I think there could have been a really interesting point made about how horror typically paints many people from rural settings (or “The country”) as inbred, brutal killers, but here these characters are the victims.
If I had to guess, I would say that the original pitch was something along the lines of “What if the hillbillies were the heroes instead of the villains?” And I think that could have worked, but this film wants to be a lot of things at once and wants to address a large swath of issues which makes it feel muddled and unfocused.
And then there is the scene with Hilary Swank where she literally gets fired from her high-paying job for making a joke about “Deplorables”. I didn’t really need this, or the break from the action where we do a flashback to explain how everyone got to where they are. It cuts the momentum off at the knees and really doesn’t add much to the story.
We should applaud the film for tackling big issues and daring to comment on things like cancel culture and, ironically enough, social media outrage, but the problem I had with this is that it wants to tackle everything at once and so, in may ways, ends up saying nothing about anything and instead of really drilling down on one or two main issues.
If this premise sounds intriguing or if you are just looking for something to do to pass the time during your self-quarantine, then you should check out The Hunt. Otherwise, I would recommend Ready or Not or watching The Invisible Man on streaming now that it is available. For my money, I would give this a low RENT IT rating.
I would advocate for supporting this film, just because I do not like or support the idea that a group of social media trolls can scream loud enough into the void to force a studio to change or censor a piece of art. This unique situation brings up lots of issues and I think (and hope) it is going to start (or perhaps already has started) some very important conversations in the industry about censorship and what we as a society deem as going “Too Far” or being “Too Extreme” in terms of art and fictional portrayals of violence.
If this sounds like something that you would like to check out, you can find The Hunt to stream today on VOD platforms everywhere!
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