The Hunt (USA / 18 / 90 mins)
In short: Shoots blanks
Directed by Craig Zobel. Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Wayne Duvall, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Ike Barinholtz.
The Plot: Twelve confused strangers from around America wake up in a field, including Crystal (Betty Gilpin) and Don (Wayne Duvall). Soon, shots are fired, taking out a few of them. The survivors find themselves in a fight for their lives. They’re being hunted by an elite group of rich people fronted by Athena (Hilary Swank) who are looking to play the most dangerous game. However, there’s more going on than initially appears. The survivors don’t know who to trust. The Hunt is on…
The Verdict: After a mass shooting in America and then subsequently drawing the ire of President Trump, The Hunt’s release was postponed last autumn. It’s a Trumpian nightmare of sorts, the kind of film that doesn’t pull its punches when using words like ‘deplorables’ or its bare-faced 1 per centers vs the 99ers. God Bless America. Things have died down now though, as the world is gripped with a new crisis. Was it worth all the hassle? Not really. Strip away its supposed satiric element and all that’s left is a gung-ho mix between the vintage 1932 film The Most Dangerous Game and the xenophobia of Hostel – but without the intelligence of either film. Subtle it is not.
To give a flavour of that, an early scene features a former Oscar Winner removing a gouged eyeball from a stiletto. It doesn’t let up after that, gleefully throwing guts and gore at the camera with wild abandon. It’s no surprise to learn that Damon Lindelof is a co-writer. Love him or hate him, he’s writer who is not known for his subtlety and has a habit of pushing audience buttons repeatedly. The script is initially engaging, throwing the audience into a fight-or-flight situation with its disparate characters – who don’t much trust each other. Director Craig Zobel has fun playing around with audience expectations too, killing off a familiar face in the first few minutes. There’s a tense, twisty scene in a mom-and-pop gas station as well. After that though, the film quickly falls apart.
One significant problem with the script is that it takes a while to settle on just who is the main character, leading to several red herrings. That disorganisation and lack of identity for a protagonist hurts the film’s objective in trying to make a point about the value of human life – or the lack thereof. It’s hard to know who to root for, particularly when the villains are smug, anonymous corporate types who want to bin the ‘deplorables’. Hats off to Hilary Swank though for going full throttle for her villainous role. One can imagine she took the role because she thought it might have something to say about the ugly rise of the right wing in modern America. Right idea, wrong film though. The Hunt has very little to say. After a loaded first act, it then shoots blanks and peters out soon enough. Any real satire here has been blunted with a sledgehammer. A wasted opportunity.
Rating: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor