Friday, March 13, 2020

The Hunt: Forget Your Preconceptions

This might shock some people, but Donald Trump is a terrible film critic, especially when he hasn’t even seen the film in question. He pilloried this much maligned satire about liberal elites hunting red state conservatives, but it never really made sense how that premise could be a good look for the left. We could only wonder when the film’s release was postponed out of sensitivity to tragic news events. Ironically, those who retweeted Trump’s thinly veiled comments could be the ones who most enjoy Craig Zobel’s Blumhouse-produced The Hunt when it opens today nationwide—at least wherever theaters are still open. Seriously, this film cannot buy a break.

A group of snide leftwingers has abducted a group of “deplorables” (that would be there word for them), who will come to in a remote clearing wearing ball gags. As the bullets whiz by their heads, they figure out they are being hunted, but it will take them a bit of time to understand why. Supposedly to be sporting, the hunters also left them a crate of firearms, but the initial culling will be brutal.

Crystal, an Afghanistan veteran currently working a dead-end car rental job, is one of the few to survive the first ten minutes. Her survival skills are still finely honed and she has razor-sharp tactical judgment. As she navigates her way through the trap-laden countryside (that turns out to be somewhere in the Balkans), she steadily evens up the score. Of course, we can safely assume she will eventually face-off against Athena, the shadowy leader of “The Hunt.”

Again, who in their right mind would consider the concept of “The Hunt” good propaganda for the hard-left cause? Obviously, the participating hunters are profoundly intolerant of diverse opinions and show a fundamental disregard for the sanctity of life. Screenwriters Nick Cuse & Damon Lindelof also skewer the absurdity of their identity politics and the utter hypocrisy their “limousine liberal” snobbery and contempt for average working-class people. Really, the only thing the rightwing prey gets tagged with is a propensity to retweet fake news, but even that takes on rather complex and ironic dimensions.

No matter what you think the film is saying and how you feel about it, you have to give Betty Gilpin credit for making Crystal such a compelling action protagonist (who does indeed retake the initiative). She has the chops and the steeliness, but she also humanizes her character to a much greater extent than the rest of the ensemble. (Admittedly, most of hunters and hunted are stock characters, but that is typical of broad satires, especially when they involve this much bloody mayhem.) However, Macon Blair and Usman Ally stand out as memorably colorful supporting villains (of vastly different types), while the surprise special guest portraying Athena plays it to the hilt, sneering and preening all the way.

Honestly, more people have woken up in hotel bathtubs missing a kidney than were ever hunted for sport by their fellow man, but at least Blumhouse finds a way to give the Most Dangerous Game concept a fresh and original spin. If you come into The Hunt with an open mind, you might just enjoy it—or not. A lot of people leaving the New York media screening were clearly confused by what they saw, but that is probably a good sign. For the record, it’s way better than Bacurau. Recommended to the free-thinking and not easily offended—with enthusiasm, so there—The Hunt finally opens to some extent today (3/13), including the Regal E-Walk in New York.