How can a film this violent be so toothless? All bark and no bite, The Hunt rides a wave of faux-outrage into theaters, having been pulled from its original release in the wake of bad buzz and endless public shootings. And now that it’s here we can all see how utterly limp it really is. It’s a film that feels like it was designed to rile everyone up, but it ultimately has nothing to say about anything.
Had the movie opened during its original release date, we likely would’ve all forgotten about it by now. That’s not to say the rumors about the movie were untrue. Yes, it really is about liberal elites hunting MAGA-loving deplorables for sport. But rather than risk offending either side, The Hunt instead chooses to hang back and offer no real commentary. It’s a pulpy gore-fest that wants to shock, but ultimately fizzles.
Penned by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof – talented writers who just completely whiffed it here for whatever reason – The Hunt jumps into the mayhem rather quickly. A group of strangers wakes up in the middle of nowhere, bit gags locked into their mouths. They find a cache of weapons, and then immediately find themselves being shot at. Interestingly enough, they’re not entirely clueless as to what’s going on. They’ve heard – through the internet – rumors of wealthy elites hunting “ordinary people” for sport.
It’s a promising set-up, and one of the best moments in The Hunt arrives during this initial introduction, where the film keeps cheekily introducing us to characters we assume we’re going to be spending a lot of time with. Some of them are played by recognizable actors, and the way director Craig Zobel lingers on a handful of these individuals strongly suggests these folks are going to be our main characters. But one by one they’re violently picked-off, or sometimes end up dying as a result of their own foolish actions. It’s essentially an extended prologue to get us to our real main character – Crystal (Betty Gilpin), an ass-kicker who is not going to go down without a fight.
Thank the movie gods for Betty Gilpin. Without her, The Hunt would be very close to a complete bust. But Gilpin is phenomenal here, taking what could’ve been a mostly one-note character and applying strange alchemy to the part. Gilpin plays Crystal as constantly off-kilter – she’s a woman of few words, and instead is prone to humming to herself, or pulling odd, grimacing faces. It’s a quirky performance that could’ve backfired due to too many tics, but Gilpin makes it work, and makes Crystal all the more compelling as a result. We’re fascinated with her – with her weirdness, and her slow, almost monotone way of speaking. She nearly never raises her voice, even when she’s blowing people away.
If only the rest of the movie were up to Gilpin’s standards. Cuse and Lindelof’s script is riddled with cringe-worthy dialogue – you better believe one of the deplorable characters calls someone a “snowflake” at one point, while another talks about “crisis actors.” Everyone here is a painful cliche, save Gilpin’s Crystal. While the hunted deplorables are fond of talking about Sean Hannity’s show and the second amendment, the hunters – uber-liberal professionals, lead by Hilary Swank, who does the best she can with some truly weak material – are the kind of ultra-woke crybabies that the right love to mock.
One could argue that that’s the point – that The Hunt is trying to point fingers at everyone. If so, the film does a woeful job getting that point across. One almost wishes the film would just go all-in on nihilism because, hey, at least that would be something to latch onto. Instead, The Hunt is merely using its left vs. right set-up to stage some gnarly moments of graphic violence. But even gorehounds might end up feeling left cold – so much of the blood here is CGI.
By the time The Hunt reaches its inevitable climax, it briefly comes alive with an admittedly brilliantly staged throw-down between Gilpin and Swank. The choreography is brutal, and Zobel keeps the camera constantly moving – flipping, and twisting, and slamming to the floor in sync with his brawling leads. It’s an exciting enough scene that it might be enough to satisfy viewers who’ve stuck with the movie this long. But it’s not. And now that The Hunt has finally reached its release date the film can finally fade into the ether – or perhaps end up a success. Either way, many people are going to feel very silly for thinking this flick was going to be even close to genuinely controversial. If there’s one good thing to come out of all of this, it’s that The Hunt will (hopefully) launch Betty Gilpin onto bigger, and better, things.
/Film Rating: 5.5 out of 10
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