Back in October 2019, I was called into the BBC to chat on-air about The Hunt, an American horror movie that seemed to have enraged the right-wing media to the point where Universal dropped the film from its schedules. At the time, this all seemed like big news; we had little notion that ‘legitimate political discourse’ was about to get a lot, lot worse. As it turned out, The Hunt was intentionally an equal opportunities offender, deliberately attacking Red and Blue state mentalities, but only the right mobilised to publicise their deep sense of being offended.
For once, let’s cut to the chase, or at least the punch-line. This is a story about a ground of poor people who are being hunted by a rich elite. The heroine is a woman called Crystal/Snowball (Betty Gilpin) who is unencumbered by political motivations; she’s only interested in survival. Her eventual opponent is the highly-trained big-game hunter Athena (Hilary Swank); with one character called Don, and another played by a Hilary, it’s not hard to see where we’re taking our inspiration from. But things moved on quickly from Trump vs Clinton, and The Hunt’s attempts to pin down either side don’t chime with what we know now about the growing schism between rich and poor.
Craig Zobel’s film was originally conceived at Red States vs Blue States, or Republican vs Democrat, then altered to rich vs poor, then had an neither-nor heroine added; the result is a punch pulled. But the film’s first thirty minutes are pretty good, as we see a group of random captives (Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts) hunted down, initially by snipers, but eventually via stealth traps manned by libs like store-owners Ma and Pa (Reed Birney and Amy Madigan). Things get bogged down in a train escape that firmly identifies the background as Croatia, but any geopolitical point is lost when Swank’s sub-Bond villainess is unveiled and a long Torn Curtain gal-fight ensures. The Snowball motif, complete with a live pig, aims to riff off George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the comparison doesn’t land until the final scenes, and in a rather blunt way that shows little understanding of the original text; it feels like a remnant of an earlier, more overtly political draft.
The Hunt is a reasonably smart horror/action hybrid, combining elements of Hostel and The Most Dangerous Game, but ultimately trying to be too smart for its own good. The rich don’t hunt the poor, they just oppress them, steal their money and screw them over, and no-one needs a film to remind us how this happens every day. Gilpin in particular makes for a solid core, and her pithy monologue about the turtle and the hare is well delivered. But satire doesn’t land unless aimed precisely, and despite lofty ambitions, The Hunt is too keen to be embraced by the widest possible audience to land any killer blows to anyone.