Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Hunt Aims For Provocative But Ends Up Being Tedious

Do you ever notice how movies that generate a lot of pre-release controversies don't tend to be worth all the fuss? Remember how people lost their minds over The Da Vinci Code in 2006? I dare anyone to find somebody in 2020 who genuinely likes that movie or even remembers it. Ditto for the 2007 movie The Golden Compass. So it's true for The Hunt, which saw an avalanche of pre-release complaints for its premise surrounding Trump supporters and right-wing people being hunted for sport by wealthy people who identify as Liberals. This included a tweet from the orange-skinned fascist currently sitting in the Oval Office. The Hunt got its release delayed by six months. Ironically, it ended up debut in theaters just five days before they were shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like so many other movies that caused a pre-release tizzy, The Hunt isn't really worth all the fuss. In fact, the strangest part of The Hunt is how the whole "hunting conservatives" aspect only really factors into the first fifteen-ish minutes. The opening scene of The Hunt see's a bunch of people waking up in a field and then realizing that they've been kidnapped, dropped into a field and are now being hunted. From there, they're quickly slaughtered before we meet our protagonist, politically ambiguous Crystal Creasey (Betty Gilpin). All the story elements that caused such controversy are basically a prologue before the real story, concerning Crystal going after the people who kidnapped her, kicks in.

Political overtones seep into the project but they're mostly what you'd expect from a bunch of rich white people trying to offer commentary on the modern era of American politics. People of color are basically nonexistent. Ditto for queer people. There's a whole lot of spouting of recognizable buzzwords but no real insight into the psychology or systemic forces that inform the modern American political scene. The Hunt promotes itself as edgy fare but it's tragically conventional in too many ways. The mixture of R-rated action with political overtones makes it clear that The Hunt is channeling classic John Carpenter movies like They Live. Instead, it has all the edge of Swing Vote.

Anytime writers Nick Cuse & Damon Lindelof and director Craig Zobel try to make The Hunt into a political commentary, the movie stumbles. The only political-based gags that land are amusing jokes centering around how the Liberal hunters concern themselves with things like using racially appropriate terms while being so nonchalant on killing people. That dissonance has a level of specificity to it that the rest of the political elements of The Hunt just don't bother to have. On a more positive note, The Hunt actually does work better as an action movie, particularly when it comes to the lead character Betty Gilpin.

In Gilpin's performance, The Hunt does echo a classic Carpenter film, Escape From New York. Gilpin's Crystal is a modern-day Snake Plissken, a cunning figure who can punch their way out of any snafu and has an amusing sense of disgruntlement with everyone around them. Gilpin evokes Plissken in her performance as Crystal but she's totally able to make the character her own. In her post-GLOW movie roles, Gilpin has been tragically underserved by films like Stuber and The Grudge. How nice, then, that The Hunt not only gives Gilpin plenty to do but lets her show off her action movie chops. Nobody else in the cast really leaves an impression, but at least Gilpin delivers one heck of a lead performance.

Gilpin is also at the center of The Hunt's best scene, an extended fight scene between Crystal and the film's ultimate villain, Athena Stone (Hillary Swank). Their hand-to-hand combat makes creative use of objects lying around Stone's hunting lodge while some effective dark comedy ("No more glass!" Stone shouts after the two characters fell through a window) had me chuckling. Why wasn't The Hunt more concerned with cool R-rated action? That's clearly something it's much better at, particularly compared to its efforts at being a timely piece of political commentary.  Alas, too much of The Hunt is spent on material it handles clumsily, at best. Chalk The Hunt up as another example of a movie that caused a whole lot of pre-release fuss for nothing.

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