The premise of “The Hunt” isn’t new. Even if you haven’t read Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” you’ve probably been exposed to the themes of man being hunted by man. This script by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof gives a humorously horrific twist and under the direction of of Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah”) constantly works to subvert our expectations.
Connell’s O. Henry Award-winning story was about a New York City big-game hunter, Sanger Rainsford, who accidentally falls off a yacht and swims to an island owned by a General Zaroff. Armed with a knife and given a three-hour head start, the hunter becomes the hunted, with the promise of being set free if he can elude the general for three days.
Variations on this theme have been used on television from as early as “Have Gun–Will Travel” (“The Black Bull,” 1963) or the steampunk “The Wild Wild West” (“The Night of Sudden Death,” 1965) or “Star Trek (“The Squire of Gothos,” 1967) to the more recent episodes of “Criminal Minds” (Season 2 Episode 21, “Open Season,” 2007), “Law & Order: SVU” (Season 13, Episode 15, “Hunting Ground”), “Game of Thrones” (Season 4, Episode 2) or “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (Season 3, Episodes 21 and 22). Taking the hunt into comedy has precedence: “Get Smart” (“Island of the Damned,’ 1966), “Gilligan’s Island” (“The Hunter,” 1967) and “The Simpsons” (“Treehouse of Horror XVI: Survival of the Fattest,” 2005).
Distributor Universal had originally scheduled release on 17 September 2019, but after the 3 August 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart (22 dead, 24 injured) and the 4 August 2019 mass shooting in Dayton (nine dead, 17 injured), the opening for “The Hunt” was postponed until 13 March 2020.
Donald Trump gave the film some negative publicity–sight unseen:
The plot isn’t that simplistic and you have to trust the film’s biggest star, Hilary Swank for good judgment. Granted, if you’re a firm believer in Pizzagate, you might not find this funny. And, if you’re one of the liberal elite and ultra concerned about awkwardly staged ethnic/racial quotas, you’ll also be troubled. This film takes a solid aim at both sides with our hero coming from the sensible middle ground.
Fans of “This Is Us,” will be disappointed that the most stereotypically heroic looking prey, Justin Hartley as the unnamed Trucker doesn’t even make it to the half way mark. Neither does the other half of the stereotypical heroine-ish Emma Roberts, known only as Yoga Pants.
The film with some mysterious text messages (explained later) and then lands us in the air with a very put-upon stewardess on a private jet serving a particularly annoying obnoxiously entitled passenger. The first class section is attacked by a big lunk of a man who is quickly put down, with the coup de grâce gorily delivered in high fashion–a stiletto to the eye. And the giddily bloody cinematic mess doesn’t stop there. The heel is pulled out with an eyeball attached. If you got a weak stomach, stay away although this is probably the goriest scene. There is, of course, a lot of blood shed ahead, but this isn’t a gore fest. Zobel isn’t going forth with the motto, the greater the gore is good.
The big man’s body is dragged back to another compartment where a group of white people are on the floor, unconscious. They have plenty of legroom, but comfort isn’t a particular concern. Keeping them quiet and unconscious is. The camera zooms in and lovingly looks at Yoga Pants who later wakes up on a grassy meadow with a bondage gag locked on. She sees the others–all silenced with similar gags. Eventually they find a large crate in the middle of a grassy hillside. Inside the crate is a small pig, dressed up, who quickly trots away. A key to their gags is also inside. And, as the trailer reveals, there are also high power weapons on a rack. Soon, the red neck prey are being taken down from a hunting blind at the top of the hill.
At first, it seems we are in red neck country: Arkansas. The truth is more intriguing and once the prey have been mowed down, the camera follows Crystal (Betty Gilpin) who is definitely not part of the liberal elite. There will be a showdown between Crystal and the leader of the liberal elitist hunters, Athena (Swank) that ends up being a glass crashing brawl than a cat fight.
Gilpin hits the right tone as a no-nonsense, hard-hitting, self-assured and highly competent Crystal. Her Crystal trusts no one and quickly assesses her situation. Swank delivers as an embittered former high-flying executive who had been targeted by right-wing conspiracy theorists/nuts.
Make no mistake, there are clear references to George Orwell’s 1945 “Animal Farm” and it’s not only because the cute piggy is named Orwell. In 2017, I wrote an essay that was published as “Watching ‘1984’ in Trump’s America” on RogerEbert.com and “Radford’s ‘1984’ and the Heart of Darkness during Trumpian Times” on this blog.
Since then, I’ve been convinced that we are living in a dark comedy that references not only George Orwell, but also Nikolai Gogol’s “The Inspector General.” Gogol’s play was given a light, comedic touch in 1949 in the Warner Bros. comedic musical of the same name (with a wonderful performance by Danny Kaye).
If you can still laugh at the state of this union, then check out “The Hunt.”
“The Hunt” is also the name of a 2012 dark fictional commentary of false accusations of pedophilia. That film stars Mads Mikkelsen.