In the shadow of a dark internet conspiracy theory, a group of elites gathers for the very first time to hunt ordinary Americans for sport. But the elites’ master plan is about to be derailed because one of The Hunted knows The Hunters’ game better than they do.
Clearly made by just my kind of woolly liberal, The Hunt – delayed last August after two US mass shootings – mocks both your average Trump supporter and micro aggression-obsessed, performatively left-wing multi-millionaires.
There’s little tension, as we don’t get to know anyone, but this is still a pacy, death-strewn romp that combines satire and eye-popping horror with flair, if not much finesse.
That satire is blunt – very blunt – and this is a decidedly one note story, despite its, ahem, liberal use of George Orwell references.
It’s loosely based on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, about a millionaire who kidnaps people and brings them to his island where he hunts them for sport – until he meets his match. (I read it last summer when The Hunt hit the news for its non-appearance, and it’s well worth a read. It’s also quite short if you’re currently under lockdown while trying to homeschool your children and do your full time job.)
There’s a gleeful delight built into The Hunt by writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, and director Craig Zobel.
They play the usual games with us at the beginning, teasing potential heroes and anti-heroes besides the well-publicised Betty Gilpin. Surely someone else must last until the half-way mark?
I’m not saying – though “Deplorables”, as the Elite hunting them down call them, are picked off in various gruesome ways from the first few minutes, after assorted rednecks and Trumpian podcast owners wake up gagged in a wood.
Like zombies who’ve spotted what their half-dead brains think could be dinner, they appear out of the trees to stagger towards a giant wooden crate in the middle of a field. Opening it they discover extensive weaponry and, making his first appearance, Orwell the piglet. “What the fuck” says one, or rather “Wor t fuk” because he’s still got his metal mouth gag on.
Then the attacks start, with arrows and bullets raining down from invisible Hunters. “War is war” says arch villainess and liberal businesswoman Athena, channelling Animal Farm‘s Snowball.
It all gets very meta as the Deplorables work out that they’re the prey, simultaneously terrified of their unseen assailants and delighted that their conspiracy theories about Manorgate are in fact true. That story, that the rich libs are hunting ordinary people for sport, has already leaked onto Reddit and fuelled many a paranoid podcast. But are the Elite really out to get them, or did they unknowingly nurture the seed of the idea themselves?
The jokes are funny but entirely unlikely, as a Hunter tell a dying Hunted “for the record asshole, CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!”. His suffering, forced to listen to 24/7 Fox News as part of his cover story, is equally real.
Gilpin plays Crystal, a woman from Mississippi who turns out to be perfectly capable of stepping up to the task of taking out the Hunters. A mixture of street smarts, action heroine and much more, she’s ambiguous enough that the audience actively roots for her.
The Hunt would be even shorter than its nifty 90 minute run time if Crystal, who tells a good story and knows when she’s listening to a tall tale, didn’t decide to give us a long, blood-soaked version of The Tortoise & The Hare, listening to which reminded me of waiting with bated breath for my 8 year old to finish a point a good hour after he started making it.
The Hunt doesn’t look too hard at the issues it’s raising, and gets by through appealing to the middle ground, ie people who plant about three trees to save the planet and dislike multi-millionaires mainly because they’re not one.
Still, it does shine a light on the wealthy Liberal Left’s privilege battles – fighting each other on behalf of marginalised people who didn’t ask for help, weaponising and trivialising genuine grievances of appropriation – rather than giving up their own privilege by building a different type of society, which would sweep those issues away anyway.
There’s not much delving into the Deplorables – if it did it would get into territory The Hunt clearly wants to avoid – as most of them are soon dead. We find out more about Athena’s grilled cheese sandwich that most of the victims (and honestly, doesn’t anyone in America own a Breville?)
Though while they’re still alive The Hunted don’t just talk the talk – they walk the walk. Or they would if they still had legs, as one hideously injured Deplorable demands another finish her off and then fights for his gun: “Shoot me, let go you fucking snowflake!”
We get flashback stereotypes showing why they were chosen, but we rarely get to know any of them as individuals who might be redeemed by small acts of caring (the kind that get half a million retweets on Twitter before someone checks out their bio and realises they’re wearing a MAGA hat in it).
The self-aware yet self-congratulory Elite – murdering people for fun while politely bickering over whether one should say African American or Black – are easy targets for mockery and they know it. They use their privilege to point out the privilege of others, while giving themselves a free pass, not unlike many of us watching.
The Hunt reminded me, with its human hunting, vicious glee and abundance of hideous deaths, of 2006 British horror comedy Severance.
Starring Danny Dyer and Toby Stevens, Severance follows a group of British office workers stuck in the forests of Eastern Europe on a team-building exercise which goes horribly wrong, as they’re hunted down and subjected to various gruesome ends by psychopathic locals.
Both films are based around broad late night sitcom humour and comedy kills, which means that if you strip out the American political and social commentary The Hunt feels rather British, like a 2020 version of The Comic Strip Presents.
Obviously, making a film mocking both white Trump supporters and white liberals means they’ve made a very white film, so let’s hope they had a diverse crew. (By the way you’ll know if you’re an Elite if you’re more upset when ****** *** ****** gets it than conspiracy-loving podcaster Shut The F**ck Up Gary.)
Gilpin is terrific as the quietly furious Crystal, always enough of an enigma that we can hope she wasn’t a Deplorable at all. She assumes the Elite are out to get her and treads with caution, while her shouty fellow Hunted make mistake after mistake. She’s temporarily reduced herself to the basics to fight back against people who only see her as basic anyway.
Her ultimate nemesis is Athena (an enjoyably vile Hilary Swank). And though The Hunt will probably rile people at both ends of the political spectrum, Crystal and Athena’s eventual meeting will delight them all, as well as those wet liberals loathed by both sides. A metaphor for society, it’s home invasion and culture war combined, until what the Hunters might call her literary ableism exposes the cracks in Athena’s planning. If only she’d checked her privilege first.
Rent The hunt on Amazon UK now
Rent The Hunt on Amazon.com now
Watch the trailer:
They’re not in America, but Croatia. After finding the Elites’ bunker, Crystal kills them, then finds Athena in her rented house. She kills Athena after an epic fight in the kitchen while Athena is cooking a toasted sandwich. Then she dresses up in one of Athena’s posh dresses and flies back to the US on Athena’s private plane, drinking champagne. And I’m really sorry but Orwell the piglet dies.
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