Crises or periods of creeping malaise often result in great satirical art — just recall the rise of punk in Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain or Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which followed the Cuban Missile Crisis and punctured the saber rattling of one of its key players, Gen. Curtis LeMay.
But years from now, when Americans seek to understand how the country became so divided in the early 21st century, they will hopefully not turn to Craig Zobel’s The Hunt for insight. Working from an unusually lazy script by Damon Lindelhof (Lost, HBO’s Watchmen) and Nick Cuse (son of Lost writer-producer Carlton Cuse) that cuts and pastes the most overused phrases from political Twitter, Zobel presides over insults and showy gore involving people who are merely archetypes, not characters.
Let us not sugarcoat this: they really are merely archetypes. Apart from lead red-stater Crystal (Betty Gilpin of Netflix’s GLOW) and lead blue-stater Athena (Hilary Swank), most characters do not have names at all. On the film’s IMDb page, characters are referred to as Yoga Pants (Emma Roberts), Staten Island (Ike Barinholtz), Trucker (Jason Hartley of This Is Us) and Vanilla Nice (country music shaman Sturgill Simpson).
The Hunt begins on a private airline where exaggerated cliches about political camps take corporeal form. Richard (Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) taunts a stewardess with his cultured background and wine knowledge until Randy, a burly passenger from the rear of the plane, stumbles into the cabin.
He begins babbling about “the manor,” a would-be conspiracy theory in which conservatives are hunted for sport by liberals. Unfortunately for Randy, it’s all true: the coastal elites are bloodthirsty killers bent on hunting some rednecks.
It is bad enough that we have to live in a time when people of opposing viewpoints or differing bloodlines depersonalize one another in Facebook screeds and Twitter threads, but Lindelhof and Cuse the Younger had to rub salt on wounds by creating this facile Alex Jones fan fiction.
A better version of The Hunt would find a way to wryly skewer both sides in an effort to more accurately communicate a message that this kind of hate is a no way to conduct a civilization. Instead, the film perpetuates commonly held and misheld ideas about the electorate. The Hunt is exactly what we did not need in 2020: more confirmation bias.
To make matters worse, Zobel practically telegraphs the flaws in his storytelling, staging a mid-film expository session to explain the scenario and a lengthy one-on-one battle royale toward the end that appears designed to stretch The Hunt to its 89-minute running time.
A premise like this practically screams for the razor-sharp dialogue of the original Zombieland, but most of The Hunt sounds like that one social media post that made you wince and shut down the app.
Some media outlets and online wikis report that The Hunt is loosely based on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” but it actually bears scant resemblance to Connell’s classic. Instead of participating in Zobel, Lindelhof and Cuse’s (nearly) feature-length clickbait, consider reading “Dangerous Game” or listening to the audiobook. It is even shorter than The Hunt, but far more fulfilling.
R 1:29 1 ½ stars
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Glenn Howerton
(strong bloody violence and language throughout)
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