A dumpster fire of a movie attempting to incinerate the dumpster fire of our current politically toxic discourse, Universal’s “The Hunt,” is a sophomoric, bad faith, shitposting provocation masquerading as satire— cue a this is fine meme at your disbelief throughout at its juvenile agitations. Shorter version: this is a movie made by wannabe internet trolls.
Directed by Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah,” “Compliance”), and easily the worst film of his promising career, “The Hunt” is essentially a loose remake of “The Most Dangerous Game”—12 strangers wake up in a field, groggy, gagged, unsure how they got there and one by one they are hunted for sport. Only this time, the twisted amusement is told by screenwriters posing as extremist keyboard crusaders trolling their audience for cheap and ugly laughs at everyone’s expense.
Written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (“Watchmen”)—though seemingly penned by Andy Ngo, Baked Alaska, Jacob Wohl, crowdsourced Twitter bots, whoever funds the Federalist and other pedestrian shitgrinning provocateurs—this Breitbart-esque Madlibs of infantile political pot-stirring gleefully weaponizes the throbbing animus of the United States body politic into an odiously disingenuous and hyper-shallow tale of elites versus deplorables. Trying to be clever and subvert Hollywood expectations, “The Hunt” casts its heroes as hayseed “hicks” and villains as condescending, contemptuous East Coast “elites,” the latter driven to the enraged brink by easily swayed rednecks that back Trump, don’t believe in the climate change “hoax” and recycling, or whatnot (they’re like some arrogant Intellectual Dark Web cadre incensed by the ignorant half of the country).
Yet throughout, wanting to have its satirical cake and eat it too, “The Hunt” pretends to be ideologically neutral, trying to savage both sides, all sides, and skewer every political belief under the sun. Instead, this comically grotesque, gratuitously and graphically-violent thriller just reads like a kitchen sink effort at ridiculing a ready-made checklist of political topics, themes, subjects, people, and viewpoints with little insight, skill, or observation. “The Hunt” will insincerely posit that it’s “starting a conversation,” when the reality is, just like a troll, it’s designed for maximum frustrating disruption and nothing more sophisticated than that.
Built on a rather galaxy-brained notion of the ouroboric nature of conspiracy theories, “The Hunt” is constructed on a conspiracy theory that’s not actually supposed to be a conspiracy theory (sigh), but to say more, outside of motivations of infuriated revenge, are too spoilery. So, there’s an open field, a dozen “regular Americans” from various parts of the Heartland, (and a loudmouth, out-of-cultural-sync East Coaster or two), a crate full of weapons to defend themselves with and soon, a menacing hiss and spray of bullets gruesomely picking them off one by one. It’s now a race against time to survive and figure out who’s behind this plot.
These regular joes are played by folks like Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, and Ethan Suplee, but it’s Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”) as the resourceful, skilled, tough-as-nails Mississippian, Crystal, who leads the show and outwits her predators at every turn, slowly snaking her way to “the Manor” where the mysterious big bad elite figurehead (Hilary Swank) at the center of it all lays. “Why us? Why were we picked,” the deplorables ask as they try and solve the riddle of their abduction and the life-or-death peril they find themselves in. The answer, in not so many words, is that nothing is as it seems on the surface.
Given the uncertainty of everything, the mistrust of every treacherous, rug-pulling situation the deplorables find themselves in, “The Hunt” sets up a thriller that seems poised to tackle the big questions of what is truth in the 21st century, and how distortions, manipulations, and intellectual dishonesty is eroding the very nature of veracity. Sadly, that would be an Ezra Klein-esque look at the story and this narrative is some strictly Milo Yiannopoulos-level shit.
The problem, however, is the smug, self-satisfied ‘Hunt’—believing that it’s much smarter than it actually is— is under the sad delusions that it’s at least operating at Ben Shapiro’s diminutive stature (lol, no). It never earns its confrontational mien, nor its affinities at sensationalism either through gory violence or blunt opinion as espoused through self-righteous character soliloquies or tangential asides.
Every touchy element of modern political discourse is devilishly prodded—abortion, immigration, religion, the second amendment—and every buzzword, term or phenomenon—“snowflakes,” crisis actors, Beta Male globalist cucks, libtards, deplorables, QAnon truthers, Deep Staters, the Wall, anything Trumpism—is liberally abused for some cheap line of dialogue or brief plot point (a moment that exploits the Syrian refugee crisis is particularly gross).
Occasionally, as it weaponizes the tensions found in identity politics, woke empathetic inclusivity and the shackles of political correctness, “The Hunt” is enjoyably stupid and entertainingly dumb. It has some preposterous laughs in fits and starts—some absurd elements of gore—but its ridiculousness never outweighs its self-belief that it’s creating a thought-provoking Blumhouse special in the vein of “Get Out” (spoiler: it’s not), even as it acts playfully glib. Betty Gilpin is a standout, but even her character—”underestimate me at your own peril” personified over and over again—becomes one-note and dull.
It would be one thing if the movie’s send-up of everyone had a purpose or sardonic, ironically cruel or tragically hilarious point—how about nihilistically examining the cannibalistic nature of the Democratic party and the way it seems intent on self-immolation rather than banding together to fight a common enemy, that also happens to be a laughable conman reality TV show host and completely inept politician that a high school debate team should easily be able to defeat? There’s dark, tragic futility there about how all is lost and never to be fixed if we can’t mend the broken fences of our differences. Forget it though, you won’t find a moment even has a considered as this tossed-off idea.
Insipid throughout, the baiting ‘Hunt’ is a film seemingly borne out of an unholy alliance between a malicious Reddit thread and 4chan forum in love with the idea of torching “both sides” of the polarized partisan conversation. And it’s about as clever as smug Donald Trump Jr. and every edgelordy “they don’t let me tell edgy jokes anymore” comedian telling you to trigger a sensitive snowflake-y liberal on Thanksgiving because like a dog that licks its balls, you do it because you can. Ultimately, “The Hunt” is a fantasy about divisiveness, fabricated on an uninspired, self-congratulatory idea: what if you were able to enact revenge about those talking shit about you on the Internet? Fine, I guess. [D-]