Review: Entertaining Political Horror Satire The Hunt (2020) Prematurely Shoots Its Way Onto VOD
Updated: May 8, 2021
The Hunt (2020), originally planned for a release in late 2019, has been pulled from theaters after one week and placed on streaming services to subvert a box office failure from the growing threat of the Coronavirus pandemic. A ploy on the famous short story ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, The Hunt puts political satire front and center to tell its story of liberal elites hunting down a group of conservatives. It follows Crystal, played by a stoic and capable Betty Gilpin, and a group of strangers waking up in an empty field only to be slaughtered by a group of hunters led by the unhinged Athena, played by Hilary Swank.
Before talking about the political slant of The Hunt, let’s talk about its cinematic merit first. My biggest issue with this film is the horrendous pacing. Very little time is taken to enjoy getting to know or even care about any of the cannon fodder characters introduced in the first fifteen minutes. There was so much potential to develop at least some of these characters beyond a few one-liners before they are picked off by their mysterious assailants. The pacing issue lingers throughout the film, as interesting characters and situations come into the fray only to be rushed to the next set-piece with little fanfare. Maybe I was expecting something more slow burn, but I do believe that The Hunt could have benefitted from more time to ferment in its premise more. While most characters were mere cardboard cutouts vaguely resembling real people, both Crystal and Athena receive the vast majority of character development.
Throughout The Hunt’s quick 90 minute runtime, Gilpin and Swank drive the narrative of the film and carry the bulk of the labor necessary to sell the film’s wacky premise. Gilpin’s even performance of Crystal showcases confidence and finesse at playing the steely lead. Crystal is resourceful, quick-thinking, and no-nonsense which makes her a compelling character, even if we are unsure of her backstory and if she is truly a protagonist or not. Meanwhile Swank delivers a hilarious performance as the revenge-driven Athena flexing her comedic chops and combat skills. While Athena may embody the entitlement and out of touch nature of the elites she is meant to represent, it is impossible to deny that she is determined and disciplined in her rage.
What I love most about the characters in The Hunt is the ambiguity attached to their morality. While it is true that we only get a few frames to really get to know 75% of the cast, all characters end up making morally questionable decisions to get what they need or want. This is oftentimes based on a hunch or assumption. Clearly some are more disadvantaged in their ability to achieve their goals, either survival or revenge, but the more we learn about everyone, the more we realize that everyone sucks in their own way.
Well, maybe not everyone.
As I have read take after take on the internet regarding The Hunt, I see many people arguing that the satire was too on the nose and took away from the movie. I will admit that I found myself cringing at the dialogue every so often and rolling my eyes at a few jokes, but after much reflection, I decided that was the point. The Hunt can be interpreted as a shameless cash grab that exists to inflame and divide. I interpret it as a mirror being held up next to our current state of affairs as a society, particularly with social media.
Which makes me want to ask those who decry The Hunt as flat or exaggerated, have you ever been on social media? When engaging in conversations about politics most people do get ugly and they do parrot talking points from their preferred thought leaders or internet memes. The base language, the lazy arguments, the distortion of facts and reality? It all exists. If you are going to criticize The Hunt for anything, criticize the fact that the makers stuck to lampooning merely the political left and right, when they could have expanded their net to include centrists and the apolitical. To me, that is where The Hunt fell short, not in the general satirizing of the liberals and conservatives.
The Hunt was not made to win any awards, but it will certainly give those willing to laugh at themselves a hearty chuckle at the expense of themselves or others. If you’re searching for middling political commentary mixed in with plenty of gunshots and gore, The Hunt should be at the top of your hit list to binge during the quarantine.
Overall Score? 6.5/10