The Hunt immediately sounded compelling, from just the description of twelve strangers being hunted, a twist on the story of “The Most Dangerous Game”, with one of the twelve, Crystal (Betty Gilpin), turning the tables on her hunters. I thought it sounded exciting and intriguing. What I didn’t expect was to find it as humorous as I did, a brilliant satire on the current political climate and smart, as Crystal is portrayed as a fighter who is strategic, able to predict her enemies every move.
The Hunt, directed by Craig Zobel and co-written by Damon Lindelof, follows twelve strangers as they mysteriously wake up in a large clearing. The strangers quickly find out they’re being hunted in a game devised by a group of liberal elites. The hunters have gathered in a remote facility called the Manor House but their sport is derailed by one of the hunted, the smart and savvy Crystal (Betty Gilpin). She methodically watches, figuring out the various traps the hunters employ and picks off the hunters one by one until she reaches the mastermind, Athena (Hilary Swank).
The best element of the film is the way it blends action thriller with clever satire. The film pokes at both sides, both conservatives and liberals alike in a hilarious twist on the genre. The humor includes a woman killing one of the hunted with a spiked high heel and comments such as “White People, we’re the worst.” It also has a protagonist that’s just a little off-kilter, perhaps crazy but she also finds flaws in the hunters’ methods and reasons for hunting the conservatives. The conservatives being hunted include commentary on how little they think of immigrants and others who are different but plays up the humor of the liberal hunters who underestimate the intelligence of the hunted and are slightly self-important, having access to caviar and expensive champagne. This is all played out against action that pulls you into the story and while sometimes over the top, is riotously amusing.
The other element that helps the film work is the fact that there are some rather smart choices in the tropes and expectations. Some of the most familiar faces amongst the hunted don’t survive as long as one would expect. The hunters’ traps are at times unexpected in both execution and who you find involved, and some of their actions are as illogical as one might expect normal people would behave in a similar situation, which only adds to the laughter of the audience. Betty Gilpin’s character is not what you expect for a protagonist from Mississippi and her intelligence is a satirical commentary of itself, that you can’t assume someone is less intelligent just based on their background. And the hunters also make a critical mistake in how they choose her character for the hunt but shhh… No other spoilers!
But what truly makes this film shine for me is the acting. Betty Gilpin is phenomenal. I’ve watched her on GLOW so I was expecting the performance to be good but she was even better than I’ve seen her previously. She became her character, with a watchful stillness, analyzing her prey, providing macabre stories of jackrabbits and box turtles as easily as she figures out all the various traps, and she performs the action scenes with deftness and skill. Hilary Swank as Athena is equally smart, for the most part, not underestimating Crystal or the others and it will be up to the audience to decide who the villain of the story actually is and who might survive. The secondary actors, Ike Barinholtz and Emma Roberts do an equally stellar job portraying their characters and there are some others that just are surprising in how well they provide both humor and action to their scenes.
While there are some predictable moments, especially the traps the hunters use, and the audience will figure out much that Crystal does, it is genius to have a character that is savvy enough to think through the situation and come up with solutions that keep her safe rather than catapult her into danger. The film is also dark, bloody, a bit over the top, but ultimately, the humor and the intelligence are what make it so good.
If you like the Blumhouse films, satire, political humor that sends up multiple targets and an incredible cast of talented people, I really recommend The Hunt. I found myself laughing and cheering on the intelligent people throughout the movie. I loved the unexpected moments, the intelligence of Crystal, and the twist on the genre. It was fun all the way through.
Rating: 4.5 traps out of 5.