The Hunt (2020)

“The most controversial movie of the year!”

The “controversy” surrounding this movie was manufactured by the president himself, who dissed the movie in an angry tweet.  I doubt he watched this movie himself, and instead relied on his handlers to confirm how awfully it treats his beloved red-staters.  Those evil Hollywood liberal elites!  Damn them!  Damn them all to hell!

Sure, the movie pokes fun at red-staters, in all of their sweatpants-wearing, southern drawl-speaking glory.  But the liberal elites in the movie came off much worse.  Honestly, (most) of the dialog is so clumsy and the characters are so one-dimensional, it’s difficult to determine what side the movie is actually on.  (One, and only one character has decent dialog and shines above the rest.  I’ll reveal who that is shortly.)  I wonder though, if the president knew that the movie would end with a bare-knuckle brawl between a rising star and a two-time Oscar winner, include a discussion of one of George Orwell’s most famous novels and have a slam-bang ending, would it change his opinion of this move?  (Doubtful, I know.)

For the most part, The Hunt is a clumsy retelling of The Most Dangerous Game.  Here, the hunters are liberal elites, while the hunted are various caricatures of red-staters and conservatives.  The movie aims for satire, but is much too heavy handed to be effective.  If the writers thought they were doing something comparable to Dr. Strangelove, they are sorely mistaken.  (Kubrick can rest easy in his grave, knowing that he still reigns supreme as the master of political satire.)

All of the recognizable stars in this movie are killed early, except one, and her appearance in the third act is an honest-to-goodness surprise.  This review is full of spoilers, so stop reading here if you want to watch this movie and be surprised.

After a gory opening sequence where a man in a ball cap, backwoods jacket and jeans gets killed on an airplane, we are introduced to the targets of this movie’s dangerous game.  They are quickly and gruesomely killed to provide shock value.  For example:

  • Emma Stone gets her head blown off a few minutes in.  She’s lucky that maybe no one will remember her for being in this.
  • Ike Barinholtz (funny in Neighbors and Blockers) makes a modest impression as a member of the hunted from Staten Island, whose reason for being included in the hunt was because he believes in gun ownership
  • Justin Hartley (This is Us) is quickly killed (he is a big game hunter).
  • One lady killed is from Wyoming.  She steals sunglasses.  She is clearly a rube and is unironically killed by a poisoned doughnut.
  • One is a follower of conspiracy theories, hates immigrants and has a podcast.  He obviously must die.

After two elderly elitists (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) kill three red-staters at a fake gas station, the couple exchange simplistic banter about climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement and sugary beverages of all things.  We aren’t given any real reasons to care about who they are, just generic liberal-speak tossed around as justifications (climate change is real!).  This is a recurring thread throughout the movie, where the actors speak provocative statements, but those statements are superficial at best.  Leaden dialog makes the initial eighty minutes or so of the movie a struggle to watch.  

I previously mentioned that all characters are one-dimensional except one.  The lone holdout is Crystal, played by Betty Gilpin (Glow on Netflix–highly recommended).  She makes an impression as a worker from a car rental agency from Mississippi who is handier than anyone expects.  She is the only one who speaks even remotely like a real person.  With the attention given to her character, maybe, deep down, this movie actually has a soft-spot for the country bumpkins it ridicules.  (I suspect the script was punched up to specifically improve her dialog.)

At the midpoint of the movie, a bunch of the liberals are shown in their secure bunker.  Again, what is presented as dialog is just actors reading general liberal talking points.  They name drop Ava DuVernay, mention AIDS, the ongoing crisis in Haitian, gender norms, and so on.  Somehow Bruce Willis is mentioned in this exchange, probably because he’s a conservative.  He probably had a good snort when someone mentioned he is mentioned in this movie.  I’m sure if he ever sees The Hunt, he would yell at the screen, “C’mon, is that the best you can do?”  Later on, Jennifer Beals (one of the liberals) calls Gilpin’s character a hick before she is killed off.  Really?  That charming bit of dialog is why you agreed to this project, and not Flashdance 2?

Two-thirds of the way though, I figure that the movie has only thirty minutes left, so I can get through to the end.  Gilpin has been the only actor who has made a positive impression throughout the movie.  (She has a short but effective monolog with a national guardsman who was responsible for training the elites that includes the funniest use of “thank you for your service” I can think of.)  The movie has been cagey in not revealing who the mastermind is behind the elites.  Then Hillary Swank shows up.

The movie then flashes back to a year prior, and the plot starts making a smarmy case against those who believed and spread the conspiracy theories against Hillary Clinton, and subsequently denied her the presidency by voting for the Conspiracy Theorist in Chief.  It’s obviously a ham-fisted analogy to Servergate.  All of the points the movie has been trying to make against both liberal elites and red-staters have been so ham-fisted, the movie reflexively has a pig show up and wander through scenes.  (The movie explains the reason for the pig in the end, but it honestly makes no sense.)  

Back to Hilary Swank.  As Athena, she leads the effort against the rubes because she lost her business over a text message that was made public.  She had the nerve to call folks deplorables, so she was shown the door.  It turns out that the idea of “the hunt” discussed in the text message exchange was just imaginary, but red-staters wouldn’t let it go.  As revenge, Swank starts a real-live hunt of those namesake deplorables who did her wrong.  It’s a cute twist, but not that cute.

The confrontation between Crystal and Athena starts out as a bizarre conversation set to Beethoven, where Athena lectures Crystal about the correct knife to use when slicing a tomato and the best cheese to use in a grilled cheese.  Crystal, a character who knows a monologuing villain when she hears one, asks if they can just get down to it, and the two ladies proceed to beat the snot out of each other for a solid ten minutes.

Previously, Crystal revealed she had served in Afghanistan as a member of special forces (or something like that).  We also learned that Swank’s Athena was trained by a national guardsman for  eight months.  With those differences in mind, I didn’t figure the fight to be a fair one.  To her credit, Swank holds her own against Gilpin.  (Not very credible, I know, since Gilpin has at least fifty pounds on Swank, who is a twig.)  That doesn’t mean the beat down each gives the other isn’t riveting, because it is.  (Guilty pleasures are still pleasures.)

While watching Swank and Gilpin duke it, I thought, why couldn’t this sequence be in a better and completely different movie, maybe where they play two super-assassins who are sworn enemies?  There are several bits of dialog interspersed throughout the punches, kicks and knivings that made me laugh.  The preceding eighty minutes were nowhere near as entertaining as the last ten, but at least there was entertainment before all was said and done.  I also must admit, the movie does have a very satisfying ending.  I have a feeling the movie was pitched on vague notions of the hunt, but the finale is what caused money to exchange hands.  Then the writers padded out eighty minutes of clumsy action leading up to that final confrontation.  Damon Lindelof is credited as a writer of this movie, somehow.  I wonder if he is responsible for the good parts or the bad parts of this movie.  I’m sure if I search the internet has already discussed this movie at length, and the guilty party has been exposed.

Ultimately, you will be rewarded if you can make it through to the end of this movie.  I was pleasantly surprised how the movie changed itself from being a sow’s ear into a silk purse.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)  For her work on Glow and in this movie, count me on #TeamGilpin from here on out!

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