There’s snakebit, and then there’s The Hunt. Originally slated for a September 2019 release, no less a cinephile than Donald John Trump took a rare foray into social media to browbeat the film and its studio into submission based on a hot internet take on the movie’s politicized update of the hoary classic The Most Dangerous Game: Rich liberals kidnap arch conservatives, turn them loose into a booby-trapped estate and pick them off with the finest firearms the Second Amendment will provide. Granted, nobody had really seen the film at that point, but in combination with several more reprehensible mass shootings arriving with their usual American regularity, the release was pulled. Not one prone to give up easily, producer Jason Blum moved the movie to March 2020, just in time for the worst crowd killing global viral pandemic in a century to sweep the globe and keep everyone at home. The most horrific part of my second screening was the woman three rows back who coughed every ten minutes or so. Under this rolling curse, there’s a scrappy little exploitation film to discuss, and believe me, it’s worth it.
Speaking of internet flashpoints, The Hunt comes from Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, writers who are currently celebrating a well received HBO series sequel to the seminal comic book Watchmen. Lindelof, however, is known for stoking massive cyber ire for everything from his controversial decisions on his hit series LOST to his having a hand in some Star Trek and Alien reboot action to, I don’t know, a casual comment he made about Olive Garden. A reprimand from the commander in chief was more of a brief blip in his career than anything noteworthy. It’s with that spirit he and his conspirators hatched this movie, a quick piss take on online partisan aggression that ultimately calls everyone on both sides of the largely artificial aisle to account for their petty behavior which, taken to its logical angry conclusion, of course results in violence porn of the first water. We start The Hunt on a private jet en route to the carnage, with smugmaster Glenn Howerton educating the plebes on caviar, rare champagne and how to quiver in the face of unexpected crisis. We’re on the ground and in the game before you know it—word to the wise, don’t form emotional attachments with any of the hunted too fast, no matter how familiar their faces are from some of your favorite tv shows. By this point the audience well knows this is a hard R bloodfest, albeit delivered with a near constant cheeky pluck. Director Craig Zobel strikes this tonal balance delivered by the rich screenplay and meager budget with aplomb. An unlikely hero rises out of the herd with a quirky central performance you won’t soon forget.
The irony of the scandal around The Hunt is that the filmmakers aren’t simply skewering conservatives or liberals (and make no mistake, if we’re doing the math the liberals are the clear villains here anyway). They’re skewering the online political culture of today, where everyone’s 100% correct in their personal take and everyone else is an insipid moron worthy of seething hatred. The hero of the piece is notable not only for their instinctive smarts and capacity for violence but for the fact that they have no political lean whatsoever that we, the viewer, are ever privy to. They’re just in it to survive. For the literary buffs, Orwell’s Animal Farm serves as something of a symbolic framing device, and you’ll get an update on the famous Tortoise vs Hare race fable that might give you nightmares. In the end, those looking for a bloody good satire with a satisfying turning of tables will find this fleet thriller delivers exactly what it promises, nothing more, nothing less.