The Hunt (2020) Review
IT’S NOT A MANOR
While various satire endeavors have been commonplace throughout the years and in a variety of media facets for public viewing (i.e. movies, TV shows, comic strips, ads, theatrical stage plays, books, etc.), political satires have emerged as prominent focus source of both the public’s entertainment and scrutiny. This particular style has found to be used with a subversive intent where political tactics, speeches, and ideology are presented in a way that’s more comical and / or the intent to be “poked fun at” within a different form of medium. Additionally, political satires are usually distinguished from political protest and / or political dissent, as it does not quite carry an agenda nor seeking influence from the political process, but rather in some form of entertainment piece in a media facet. This satire has taken on many various projects throughout the recent two decades, especially since the political parties of the United States has been argumentative and a major point of debate within the government and on social media, with such projects like late night TV talk show parodies like The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and Real Time with Bill Mahr as well as feature films like Three Kings, Thank You for Smoking, The Candidate, and many others. Now, Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, and director Craig Zobel present the latest film to have political satire feature with the release of The Hunt. Does this film find a “happy medium” within its satire premise or does it overextend itself by ways and means of its controversial projections?
Waking up in the middle of a forest, a collection of strangers finds themselves tightly gagged and left with no clue as to what’s going on or how they got there. Groggy and disoriented as they are, the collective group soon find their way to a crate in the middle of a field, containing an arsenal of weapons and artillery as well as a pig. Arming themselves for a danger they don’t see coming towards, the team, including Trucker (Justin Hartley), Yoga Pants (Emma Roberts), and Staten Island (Ike Barinholtz), are soon under fire, with a liberal hunting party led by Athena (Hilary Swank), who organized to take out conservative targets who’ve been drugged and released near “The Manor”, a left-wing base of operations in an undisclosed area. While Athena’s fellow liberal carefully negotiate sexism, cultural appropriation, and veganism with their ranks, they fail to pay much attention to one of their selective prey, who is named Crystal (Betty Gilpin), an Alabama native with her own set skills and survival instincts. Confronted by a series of waves of enemies and situations that are planned to take out the right-wing types, Crystal and the surviving members must find a way out of this hell-ish nightmare of what’s rumored to be called “Manorgate” or kill the ones that are responsible for place them there.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Hmmmm……political satire. While I do like a good satire endeavor, political satire constructs are a bit of a “touchy” subject matter for sure and it’s quite easy to see why. Living in the United States, political division is quite commonplace between people and the ideology of how people attach themselves with their respective parties; drawing praise from some and ire from others. Political satire projects are a way to draw a sort of “comical” line in approach such topics and debates, with the intent of drumming up laughable entertainment to these particular political agendas. Personally, I feel the some are pretty good, but a lot of them tend to be a bit “on the nose” when it comes to tackling such issues and just comes off as a bit obnoxious and not handling such particulars in a subtle way. Like everything…. there is a right way of doing it and the wrong way. However, I’m not much of a political person, so my opinions on such matters are a little moot. So, I’ll just simply end it here. That being said, there are a plethora of satires endeavors that have recent appeared over the past 20 years (in the United States), with many drawing praise / criticisms within their projected provocations of political muses and idealism.
This brings me around to talking about the latest political satire film endeavor to come out of Hollywood, with the release of 2020’s The Hunt. While I personally can’t say much about the film when it was first announced back in 2018, I definitely can say I eventually did hear about when the film’s movie trailer dropped, especially given its premise and narrative plot being describe via online and in the feature’s preview. It definitely caused a “buzz” around the internet and its release, which was originally set for a September 27th, 2019. However, following the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings in early August 2019, Universal Pictures decided to delay indefinitely. Eventually, Universal decided to give The Hunt a release date of March 13th, 2020, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the shuttering of the movie theaters and the shuffling of Hollywood 2020 movie releases, with The Hunt being one of them. Still, Universal decided to release the film on VOD streaming sites the following week; making it accessible to the public in their attempt for a “Home Premiere” efforts.
To me, it looked only vaguely interesting. Wasn’t super keen on the premise (i.e. looked hokey) and the movie was being released under the Blumhouse production banner, a film production that has recently had a lot more misses than hits. So, I wasn’t super excited to see the film, yet I was still on planning on seeing it. This is why I perhaps decided to wait to see the movie when it got a home release date versus planning the full price when it was launched on the various VOD streaming sites (i.e. paying $5.99 versus $19.99) and the reason why my review for this movie is arriving later than others. So, finally, I had a chance to see down and watch The Hunt and ready to give my thoughts to you guys. And what did I think of it? Well, despite a lot of controversy surrounding it and “word of mouth” from people, The Hunt is, more or less, a better survival thriller than the jabs it makes at its political satire themes; struggling to find balance within its off-putting humor and bloody business. There’s a sense of air of danger and political premise within its undertaking, but its execution is handled rather poorly.
The Hunt is directed by Craig Zobel, whose previous directorial works include such films projects like Compliance and Z for Zachariah as well as directing episodes for TV shows like Westworld, The Leftovers, and One Dollar. Given the topical satire themes found within the projects, Zobel makes this movie his most ambitious directing project to date (at least in my opinion anyway); approaching the film with a sense of surreal blending of comedy and horror within the satire platform of a political arena. To be sure, Zobel certainly makes the premise have a “tongue and cheek” tone in various parts in the movie that do offer up some moments of levity within its gravitas realm of hunting human beings and violent deaths. Additionally, Zobel knows how ridiculous this film’s premise and does offer up the feature to be presented in a sort of “campy” way and is more self-aware of its odd-ball situation. Sometimes that idea can backfire, but I felt that The Hunt somewhat benefits from that notion. Well, mostly, but I’ll mention that below. Additionally, Zobel does a creative way to create a opening first act for the movie, which certainly plays with people’s expectations on “who” we (as the viewers) follow characters in the movie and show a different style of satire presentation. I won’t ruin it, but you’ll get the idea when you see it. I thought that was neat. Also, the ending fight scene, which (again) I won’t spoil it, is perhaps the more creative fun in campy violent way.
To be sure, Zobel’s The Hunt is roughly a loosely reimagining of The Most Dangerous Game, which is Richard Connell’s classic 1924 short story about wealthy people hunting poor and less fortunate individuals for sport. It is this particular idea premise as well as blending into the political charge controversy comes into play within the feature and giving off a satire platform to paly around with. Of course, the movie’s satire themes provide the function of being parable in a sort of “what if?” scenario that plays on what could happen if liberals and conservatives dehumanize one another when they discuss politics online that comes into contact within the real world where (to a point) they’re literally hunting / killing those on the opposing political fence for sheer joy / sport. It’s definitely a satire platform from the get-go and that’s the best way to watch the movie with that particular mindset.
Also, in terms of presentation, this movie met my expectations; making The Hunt have a standard production “look and feel” about it throughout the feature. I’m not saying that it wasn’t terrible or anything, but that everything from the costumes, to set layouts / decorations, to film editing seem quite “even keel” to what many would expect from a project like this. No more, no less, and nothing to fully rave about. In addition, I do have to say that the movie does have a decent score, which was composed by Nathan Barr, as well as a selection of song choices scattered throughout the feature.
Unfortunately, The Hunt, despite the “public talk” about the movie, the film struggles in what it truly wants to be; drawing criticisms within its undertaking and overall execution of its narrative and its characters. Well, for starters, the movie’s premise is a bit wonky and often sometimes gets too silly at times. Yes, I did mention that the movie has a campy tone throughout the feature, which definitely helps the movie’s likeability, but this particular tone comes off as a bit too much, which is sort of hard to buy into the whole political statements that it tries to make. It’s kind of like what happened with Blumhouse’ s Happy Death Day, where the surreal premise is blended together comedy and horror, and sometimes that blending doesn’t work out; finding the two genre elements at odds with one another and not congealing well. Speaking of political statements, the main problem of the film lies within its examination of such political view points or rather lack of. Yes, the movie takes the feuding ideas of liberals and conservatives in a few parts, but doesn’t want to examine how people identities around their political beliefs with any type of real depth / substance or even delve into the factors that’ve led to the more modern political division between the commonwealth of people in the US. Thus, the entire machinations behind everything that happens in The Hunt seems quite bland and left with the barebones premise of survival (i.e. no meat on the bones). Plus, I do have to mention that subtle political nuances are a bit “on the nose” and feel more forced than letting the film’s pacing unfold these commentary notions.
Perhaps the main culprit behind these two lies within the film’s script, which was penned by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (the screenwriter behind Lost, The Leftovers, and Watchmen). The script by Cuse and Lindelof seems rather thin and never truly evolves to make for such a topical political statement, with The Hunt keeping very much the “status quo” and never elevating anything beyond the basic survival premise. Thus, despite the controversy about the political satire, I felt that the script for the movie works better as a survival thriller (in a campy way). That being said, much of the film (script handling and directing by Zobel) is very much “meh” with many of the characters in the movie feeling very shell-like and thinly sketched caricatures….as part of the satire influence. Thus, the feature feels like a sketch comedy of some kind that never truly comes into its own. Yes, it takes the reigns of its violence and killing, but never moves beyond that. In addition, the actual written dialogue is also quite clunky and hokey, with many of the characters being one-dimensional (more on that below) and terribly hammy throughout. Everything is kept on surface level and that’s disappointing. Overall, save for a few points of amusement, The Hunt seems to run out of steam halfway through and scraps the bottom of the barrel as it limps to its ending…even if the feature’s runtime is rather short (90 minutes). The zany premise might attract some viewers, but mostly just for its surreal premise; wearing out its welcome with its madcap survival tale of violence and troublesome choices.
The cast of The Hunt definitely has some recognizable names attached to this project, but, while these acting talents provide some credibility to the feature, most of them are underutilized and underwhelming throughout the feature. Perhaps the only two that don’t fit into this category as much is found within the film’s main protagonist and antagonist characters of Crystal and Athena, who are played by actresses Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank. Gilpin, known for her roles in GLOW, Stuber, and Isn’t It Romantic, is perhaps the true MVP star of the feature; playing up the badassery persona character of Crystal; something that’s reminiscent to the “Final Girl” tropes found in such endeavors like Ready or Not, Halloween, and Crawl. True, there isn’t much to Crystal’s character build (kind of wished that there was), but the character definitely works within The Hunt’s narrative, with Gilpin steadily (and convincingly) demonstrates her eagerness to be an action famine fatale archetype with action and survival prowess as well as showing her sense of dry comedy. Likewise, Swank, known for her roles in Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don’t Cry, and P.S. I Love You, easily chews threw her dialogue lines with easy and is quite easy to see that she’s enjoying playing such a cartoonishly villain character like Athena in the picture; projecting a smug and arrogant persona within her character whenever she’s on-screen. However, unlike, Gilpin, Swank’s Athena gets less screen-time and isn’t quite the most well-rounded baddie, with her machinations behind “Manorgate” being rather simplistic and stupid. Still, seeing Swank in such a role is a bit fun with a “tongue and cheek” role for the Oscar winner. It’s definitely not her best performance out there, but its kind of amusing nonetheless.
The rest of the cast, including actor Ike Barinholtz (Sisters and Blockers), actor Wayne Duvall (Lincoln and O Brother, Where Art Thou), actor Ethan Suplee (Remember the Titans and American History X), actress Emma Roberts (American Horror Story and Nerve), actor Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Strangers), actor Vince Pisani (Little and Avengers Assemble!), actor Dean J. West (Skyler and Race to Win), actor Steve Mokate (Vindication and American Crime), actor Justin Hartley (This is Us and A Bad Moms Christmas), actress Tadasay Young (The Vampire Diaries and Shock and Awe), actor J.C. Mackenzie (The Wolf on Wall Street and October Faction), and several others, make up the rest of the players in The Hunt as supporting characters. However, most of these characters in the movie are thinly written and thinly presented in the feature; presenting many of these construct characters in a manner that is for, more or less, cannon fodder…. if you know what I mean. Plus, none of these characters have any character development beyond their initial setup. Plus, as mentioned above, the written dialogue by these actors is rather bland and completely hammy from start to finish….even when their respective characters are trying to serious and / or funny. Such a waste of talent!
It’s time for “Manorgate” to begin and time to fight or survive the onslaught of traps and violent that awaits the unwilling contenders in a life or death game in the movie The Hunt. Director Craig Zobel’s latest film takes a political idea and turns into a reimagining of The Most Dangerous Game’s premise to create a satire endeavor that blends those two ideas with the mixing of comedy and horror for a violent campy piece. However, while the movie does have a few moments to shine and, in its amusing, / strong performance from Gilpin, the movie struggles to go beyond its surface level material; lacking substance within its context and not really elevating its social / political commentary themes beyond their initial setup. Personally, I didn’t care for this movie. Its not completely terrible, but, given how much people talked about this movie, the actual feature didn’t really boast much except the violent and bloody body count. Definitely another be another “miss” from Blumhouse Productions. Thus, my recommendations for this movie is both a “rent it” (for some of the gore fans out there as well as those who are still keening on seeing the feature for its controversy) as well as a “skip it” for everyone else. In the end, The Hunt has an alluring aura over the controversy within its political remarks within its satire setup, but never fully follows through with that idea and ends up being more of a bland “one and done” endeavor.
2.8 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: March 20th, 2020
Reviewed On: August 12th, 2020
The Hunt is 90 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout