The Hunt wasn't worth anyone's outrage
Seven months after igniting a firestorm and having its initial release scrapped, The Hunt is finally arriving in theaters this weekend. But audiences may end up wishing it had just stayed on the shelf.
A horror-comedy in which humans are hunted for sport, Craig Zobel's The Hunt generated quite a stir last summer. After advertising for it was pulled in the wake of two deadly mass shootings, reports emerged that the film's plot specifically involved liberal elites hunting red-state "deplorables." The outrage was fierce, with Fox News commentators railing against the film while painting it as a celebration of the killing of President Trump's supporters, and Trump even tweeted that the movie was "made in order to inflame and cause chaos." Universal canceled the planned September release, only to suddenly announce last month that it would hit theaters after all.
If you rolled your eyes over the controversy at the time, assuming this outrage was missing the fact that the movie was clearly not on the side of the people doing the hunting, you'd be right. And those upset by The Hunt's premise last year surely won't be so up in arms over the final product should they see it given that the film really doesn't have a strong point of view at all. Instead, it turns out to be a misguided satire that sloppily gestures toward Our Divided Times before arriving at a muddled thesis about misinformation and partisanship that lands with a thud. In the end, it's not nearly deserving of all the discussion it received.
After waking up in the middle of nowhere, a group of strangers find they're being hunted for reasons unclear to them but that some suspect relates to a Pizzagate-style fringe conspiracy theory. Wealthy liberals discuss their upcoming hunt over a text message exchange in the opening scene, gleefully noting they look forward to "slaughtering a dozen deplorables." Now, those so-called "deplorables," including Betty Gilpin's Crystal, are left with a crate of weapons and must fight for their lives.
What follows is essentially a collection of caricatures from each end of the political spectrum that would be too over-the-top for even a Saturday Night Live sketch. Characters constantly spout out horribly blunt dialogue filled with politically-charged buzzwords ripped from a way-too-online person's Twitter feed, but the movie isn't really a sharp takedown of either side of the aisle, and it has surprisingly little to say, for all the polarizing issues it raises.
The closest The Hunt comes to an overarching and effectively communicated thesis statement — other than the obvious observation that Americans are divided these days — has to do with a third act that pokes at the dangers of both the left and the right jumping to conclusions about one another. The filmmakers have identified this as the driving force of the movie's creation, with co-writer Damon Lindelof explaining to Time the project came about due to an interest in "crazy conspiracy theories" and the question of, "Is there anything we wouldn't believe about the quote-unquote other side, or that they wouldn't believe about us?"
The suggestion that both parties can be guilty of making dangerously false assumptions about their political enemies is not a bad idea. But it falls flat in the film, especially given that the seemingly false belief at its center is still essentially justified. Just as we're waiting for the movie to satisfyingly square away everything we've been watching with this larger point, it sputters out.
Still, offering up a comic exaggeration of our divided political environment without delving much further might not be so bad, if the end result was at least consistently funny or exciting. But The Hunt's ribbings tend to be disappointingly lazy. In one scene, a liberal shoots a conservative before declaring, "climate change is real!" In another, a conservative calls someone too afraid to mercy kill her a "snowflake." This is hardly incisive stuff, here.
Ultimately, the fact that The Hunt is getting a release, and that it wasn't forced out of theaters permanently over outrage driven by people who hadn't actually seen it, is a good thing. But the movie, in broadly sending up both sides but not diving deep enough into any one idea, just doesn't work. It may have caused a stir last year, but for those who give it a chance, The Hunt seems unlikely to inspire such a strong response. Lindelof in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last month predicted the film, despite the controversy, "may actually, ironically, bring people together." It may, indeed, by uniting both the left and the right in boredom.