WARNING: The following review of ‘The Hunt’ contains spoilers and politically charged language and terms. The terms are denoted with quotation marks because they are the language used in the film and do not express the opinion or views of Nerds and Beyond.
The controversial film that almost never saw the light of day — The Hunt — opened this weekend. From Blumhouse Films and the creative minds behind Watchmen and The Leftovers (director Craig Zobel and writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse), The Hunt’s shocking premise — a group of rich self-proclaimed liberals hunting conservatives for sport — gives way to a sharp satire about what happens when we stay within our respective echo chambers and forget that people on the other side of the screen/political spectrum are human. In other words, it’s about Twitter and the way we treat each other on social media.
The film opens with a text message thread in which a group of people complain about the president. It takes a sinister turn when one of them says, “I can’t wait to hunt some ‘deplorables’ at the Manor this weekend.” They respond varyingly with, “We agreed never to discuss the Manor via text,” and, “Viva la manor!” The texting is immediately followed by this group of “Liberal Elites” enjoying some champagne and caviar aboard a private jet, when a drugged and semi-conscious man in overalls and a trucker cap stumbles into the cabin. They immediately kill him and have the flight attendant drag him back to where the other unconscious victims are being stored.
These “deplorables” (a mix of white, working class men and women of varying age groups) wake to find themselves gagged and in the woods. As soon as they open a mysterious crate containing an arsenal of weapons — and a piglet — the bloodshed begins in earnest as shots are fired at them from an underground bunker. Soon, only a handful of them are left alive. Some make their way to a gas station — only to be taken out by the station attendants, who are hunters in disguise. Only Crystal (played by the revelatory Betty Gilpin of GLOW) has the training and survival skills to take out the hunters and fight her way free.
Meanwhile, the film reveals a horrifying truth: the original Manor text was meant as a joke, but when a member of the group chat’s phone is hacked and its contents are published online a conspiracy theory dubbed “ManorGate” is born … and costs all of them their high paying jobs. This infuriates them, and they decide to take their bad joke and make it a reality. They kidnap and hunt 12 people that have been pushing the conspiracy theory on their social media accounts. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t grab the Crystal who is from a small town in Mississippi and whose parents died of meth overdoses and was in and out of jail for petty crimes, they grabbed the other Crystal from that town — the one who was a former soldier and completed tours in Afghanistan. And boy is she pissed.
The cast is filled with comedy and genre greats (Hilary Swank, Glenn Howerton, Ike Barinholtz, and Emma Roberts to name a few) but the breakout star is Betty Gilpin as the beleaguered Crystal. Gilpin gives an incredibly nuanced performance — pivoting from dry one liners, to fight scenes, to emotional reveals conveyed via a single teary sigh, at the drop of a hat. Her choices are totally fearless and riveting to watch. Her final fight scene with Hilary Swank, the evil mastermind behind the hunt, is one for the ages.
The action is nonstop and the pacing is breathless. The deaths and fight scenes are inventive and often shockingly funny in their grotesqueness. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and even though the film was originally meant for release back in September, feels especially pertinent to our current social climate in 2020. From Ike Barinholtz loudly proclaiming that he “owns seven guns!” to a wounded hunter admitting that her life should not be spared “just because she’s a woman” because it wouldn’t be feminist, to every single inflection Gilpin gives to the word “bitch!” I found my sides splitting with laughter.
Because ultimately, the goal of the movie is to poke fun at everyone. Everyone in the film, with the exception of Crystal (who is smartly depicted as apolitical), is terrible in some way. In fact, the only people spared this brutal roasting (aside from Crystal) are working class people of color. But it does not take sides politically. Instead, it functions more like a South Park episode: it’s an equal opportunity offender. Literally, and metaphorically, no one in, or represented by, the film is spared. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of our escalating online language and the ways in which we increasingly dehumanize each other.
But it’s also, in truth, a story about power and petty revenge. The politics are merely the set dressing. It’s also a warning to audiences that the truly dangerous among us are the wealthy, regardless of their personal politics, because they are the ones who can afford to inflict real life consequences upon us over our mean tweets. Because that is what is really driving the hunters — their status and wealth were jeopardized and so they lashed out at their perceived abusers, who were not (notably) the many wealthy conservatives that live in the United States, but the poor and the working class … the “rednecks.” And when Crystal points out that they didn’t lose their jobs and status because of her fellow “white trash” victims, but because of what they themselves said, Athena (Swank) is still unable to accept her culpability.
Overall, if you are weary of hearing about politics in any capacity (and I don’t blame you if you are) or you are sensitive to violence and gore, then this will not be the film for you. But if you find yourself drawn to comedically gory films like Shaun of the Dead or The Cabin in the Woods, AND if you’re ready to laugh at everyone — especially yourself, then The Hunt is definitely for you.
The Hunt is playing in theaters now.