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Arts & Culture

'The Hunt' Finally Hits Theaters And Asks You To Decide

Crystal (Betty Gilpin, far right) finds herself the prey in a lethal game that is the focus of the film "The Hunt."
Crystal (Betty Gilpin, far right) finds herself the prey in a lethal game that is the focus of the film "The Hunt."

Dark comedy had been pulled from theaters last September

Companion viewing

"The Most Dangerous Game" (1932)

"Series 7: The Contenders" (2001)

"Hard Target" (1993)

Last September, Universal pulled "The Hunt" from release amid a series of deadly shootings and right-wing criticism led in part by President Trump's tweets. But the film opens on lucky Friday the 13th and asks audience to decide for themselves whether it's good or bad or dangerous.

While other films ("No Time To Die," "A Quiet Place II," "My Spy") have postponed their release due to concerns over the coronavirus "The Hunt" just seems happy to finally be in theaters.

‘The Hunt’ Finally Hits Theaters And Asks You To Decide
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

Pulled from theaters

Back in September, news circulated about the plot for "The Hunt" involving rich liberal elites hunting "deplorables" and red necks. Few had actually seen the film yet that didn't stop right-wing critics and even President Trump from calling for the film to not be released. Fox News labeled it "sick" and "awful," while Trump tweeted that “The movie coming out is made to inflame and cause chaos.” Typical of most calls for censorship is that the people condemning the film or book rarely have any firsthand knowledge of the work and instead go off of trailers, synopses, or what they've heard.

But with a number of mass shootings fresh in the news, Universal decided better safe than sorry and pulled the film from distribution. With coronavirus now the focus of all the news cycles and the film's critics having moved on to other things, Universal has decided to drop the film in limited release.

What 'The Hunt' is really about

"The Hunt" riffs on the classic premise of "The Most Dangerous Game." The 1930s film "The Most Dangerous Game" (based on the short story "The Hounds of Zaroff") presented a wealthy man who hunted other humans for sport.


In "The Hunt" one character explains, "Did you see that article, every year liberal elites kidnap a bunch of normal people like us and hunt us for sport."

So in this expanded version of the premise, a group of 12 supposedly "normal" people are kidnapped and flown to a place referred to as "The Manor" and are picked off by some liberal elites who argue about gender politics and remind the victims that climate change is real. But what we are presented with turns out to be not exactly what it seems.

Coming from Craig Zobel, director of the truly provocative indie film "Compliance," I was expecting far more from "The Hunt." I was hoping for a savage satire about our current divisive politics but all I got was a comedy that tries so hard to not target any one side too severely that it ends up not really saying much about anything. Zobel and his writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof had described the film as satire but now seem to be leaning more toward the description as farce. The difference between the two is satire tends to be smarter and with a point while farce leans more towards comic exaggeration with potentially less on its mind.

What intrigued me about "The Hunt" was the idea Zobel put forth that he was making fun of both sides equally, the left and the right. That was something that had a lot of potential as both sides of the political aisle have become extreme and worthy of some comic examination. The film takes on social media but only peripherally, makes easy targets of some of the liberal elite hunters, and resorts to expected stereotypes for the red necks and conservatives. There are definitely some funny one-liners, graphic violence played as comic punctuation, and some entertaining gags. But there's nothing terribly clever and it's hard to decipher a real purpose.

A few years ago, Chris Morris proved that farce could have bite in his film "Four Lions" about a ragtag terrorist cell in England. The point of the film and the source for all its humor was that you cannot protect yourself from stupidity. Both the terrorists and the authorities trying to stop them are idiots and are dangerous.

"The Hunt" has no focus like that. It makes fun of both sides but to what point? Crystal ("GLOW's" Betty Gilpin) is the film's Final Girl (OK based on the exchanges in this film I should probably call her the Final Female or possibly something even more politically correct) so because she is fighting for survival and seems apolitical we tend to root for her. So she could be the one to call out both sides and give the film some sort of direction but she doesn't quite pull that off effectively.

On a certain level, the controversy surrounding the film builds expectations that it was in some way about something important enough to merit the controversy and ban. But it really is just a dark, violent comedy that got pulled into a political discussion even though it really doesn't have a lot to say. It says the obvious with broad jokes and gags about people stereotyping each other and not listening. So it would be satisfying to see those jokes add up to something rather than just a final punchline.

I will say the fight between Crystal and her elite nemesis Athena (Hilary Swank) was quite well staged and fun with a nice gag that James Bond would appreciate about champagne.

"The Hunt" (rated PG-13 for strong bloody violence, and language throughout) is intermittently entertaining and may divert attention from fears and concerns about the coronavirus but it lacks the satirical bite needed to make it memorable.