The Hunt review – gory Trump-baiting satire is more hype than horror

The delayed liberal elites vs rural ‘deplorables’ thriller isn’t quite the political hot potato it’s being sold as, offering boilerplate B-movie schlock instead

How do you solve a problem like reviewing The Hunt? The schlocky horror film would ordinarily garner little attention beyond genre fans and a handful of critics. But after months of buildup touting it as a satire about liberal elites hunting rural Trump voters, the film now comes with some baggage.

The Hunt, directed by Craig Zobel and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, appears at first glance to purposely provoke – one character references “the rat-fucker-in-chief”, another talks of “slaughtering a dozen deplorables” (a reference to Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark). The context of this line becaomes clear when the plot gets going: 12 people wake up, gagged and confused, in the woods while a mysterious box sits nearby, filled with weapons. (The script is loosely inspired by Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, about a rich man who hunts other humans for sport.) It doesn’t take long for every variety of death – shooting, exploding, stabbing – to descend from a hidden and prepared upper class.

The violence is gratuitous if cartoonish – one woman is shot at, impaled and then blown in half. But The Hunt does play with who to root for and who, if anyone, you can trust. Deaths are often swift and occasionally surprising; the characters are one-line stereotypes – rural woman from Wyoming, white wannabe rapper from Florida, Staten Islander who loves guns (Ike Barinholtz), Ivanka fan in leggings (Emma Roberts) – and are picked off one by one. The only “deplorable” with a clue how to fight back is Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a mysterious woman with an even more mysterious knowledge of martial arts.

The Hunt’s release in the middle of coronavirus fears in the US is another unlucky development in the film’s rollout. It was originally slated for release last September, but mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, prompted a postponement. Soon after, details about the film emerged and rightwing anger followed, even from Trump himself.

In February, it returned with an updated marketing strategy riffing on the controversy. A more spoiler-heavy trailer meant to frame the concept as a joke featured the tagline: “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen.” The film-makers have claimed they didn’t anticipate any controversy from a film pitting “liberal elites” against “deplorables” in a violent human hunt, which seems like lobbing a mock grenade into a minefield and getting upset when people scatter.

Nevertheless, they have something of a point: if you can set aside the noise, you’re left with a boilerplate B-movie that doesn’t say nearly as much as it thinks it does. The jokes are the words of stereotypes spoken with a straight face, an opportunity to have a character say “climate change is real”, poke fun at white liberal NPR listeners who debate using “black” v “African-American” (“White people – we’re the worst,” says one elite in reference to everything except his killing), and imbue “did you read that article?” with more menace.

Which isn’t to say it completely lacks redeeming qualities, namely Gilpin. It’s good fun to watch her slink into a bunker and spit, “Bye, bitch,” or drawl through a rendition of The Tortoise and the Hare that ends in more violence. She bounces back from various injury in a matter of seconds and has a genuinely entertaining one-on-one fight with Hilary Swank, as chief elite villain.

The rest of the satire, however, struggles to translate. In creating characters that embody the worst stereotypes of America’s political poles, and making America’s divide as literal and violent as possible, The Hunt feigns a viewpoint rather than actually putting one forward. It takes aim at everyone, redeeming no one. Which feels circular, and queasy, and takes us right back where we started: some empty talk about a divided nation, and a film not worthy of this much conversation.

  • The Hunt is in UK cinemas on 11 March, US cinemas on 13 March and Australian cinemas on 23 March.

Contributor

Adrian Horton

The GuardianTramp

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