The Hunt – 2020

Director Craig Zobel
Screenplay Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof based on The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
Starring Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank, Amy Madigan, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, Ethan Suplee, Reed Birney, Sturgill Simpson, Usman Ally, Macon Blair

The Hunt is the type of film that sets itself up as a clash of ideologies. Deep down, it’s just an excuse to go through a bunch of silly characters until the final two alphas fight over toasted cheese. The good thing is, we are allowed the pleasure of watching two excellent alpha portrayals.

Twelve people are rounded up. They wake in an open field with one large box in the middle with ball gags in their mouths. Next to that box is a crowbar. Once the box opens, a baby pig wanders out. Then they discover a bunch of weapons. Then the fun begins.

One of the people is a young woman named Crystal. She doesn’t volunteer much information, but she seems to have a clearer idea of what is happening than her unfortunate counterparts. Everyone discovers they’re being hunted rather quickly. Some even refer to the hunt as Manor-gate. They want to know more. For Crystal, it’s enough to know they’re being hunted.

The film starts off with a clear delineation of those who are running the hunt, and their targets. A series of texts in the opening scroll indicate the unfortunate ones are “the deplorables.” If that is not enough to rile even the slightly conservative, conversations of the arrogant “elites” are supposed to trigger even stronger feelings of resentment.

A smarter film would have given both sides smarter, less obvious characterizations. It’s enough to hear the rantings of those who decry “Faux News” versus “Fake News,” to realize that most people don’t think it’s either one or the other. Director Zobel and writers Lindelof and Cuse spend so much time trying to make the viewer guess which mid-card actor will be discarded before the viewer expects, they don’t bother creating fully fleshed characters of those who survive. There are some pleasant surprises, followed by some quick disappointments. Along the way, some real acting talent is dispatched to less an effect than one would hope.

This is not to say the film is a disappointment. We get two snake in the grass performances by the leads, Gilpin and Swank. Gilpin is the cottonmouth, thrown into a strange setting that is familiar enough for her to blend in until she gets to surprise the big foot trying to stamp her out.

Swank displays like a cobra. We get to see the beautiful pattern from behind, but she saves the front view until she’s able to blind her victim from high ground.

Gilpin, in particular is fun as hell to observe. She plays most of her counterparts like the NPC’s they are, letting them say just enough to embarrass themselves. Then she takes them out. The middle act is the most fun, because we get to see her think on her feet, while other characters just run off at the mouth.

Swank gets the limelight here, and she deserves it. Her presence is that of an Oscar winner just out for a fun film and she makes the best of her role. She’s allowed to pump out derisive exposition, but only enough to make us realize she’s a worthy big boss.

The last act is a little shorter than one would hope. It’s not entirely clear how either of them could have survived. For once, though, it’s a fight of equal weight distribution and vitriol. It’s enough to make one wish the fight could have lasted longer over a larger chunk of real estate. Crystal is enough of a mystery, it feels more charming than it should.

This film was put off after a week of gun attacks in September of 2019. The politics of the time were enough to make the filmmakers not risk the property at the time. Lucky for them, they pushed it off until Coronavirus scare ripped through the country, almost guaranteeing the film won’t ever see as many eyes as it perhaps deserves. If there is a reason to be sad, its that Gilpin and Swank are worth being watched.

This is not a great film. It’s not really even a very good one. There are some very enjoyable moments, but they sure waste a lot of potential on their way to showcasing their premium targets.

(*** out of *****)

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