THE HUNT (2020)
Review by Darren Gaskell
A bunch of seemingly unrelated people wakes up in a clearing, none of them knowing where the hell they are or how they came to be there. There’s a crate nearby though, which may contain equipment they need or may be just a massive booby trap. Slightly further away, there’s a different bunch of people trying to kill them. This is Manorgate, the stuff of internet legends which now appears to be reality, as liberal elites select 12 “deplorables” to hunt down.
From the opening exchanges between our band of bewildered targets, it’s probably fair to say that they have somewhat right-of-centre views on gun control, immigration, homosexuality and so on but it’s not long before they’re thinking less about the right to bear arms than the race to get to cover before they’re cut to ribbons by a hail of bullets from said arms.
It’s safe to say that there’s very little in terms of preamble in Craig Zobel’s brash horror actioner and even less in terms of character development as several of the hunted are almost immediately offed in various bloodthirsty ways. It’s only when the action shifts to a mom-and-pop gas station (run by Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) that we get any sort of handle on who’s been dropped in for termination and why as Ike Barinholtz’s character (known only as Staten Island because that’s where he’s been snatched from) tries to make sense of it all.
The proceedings really kick into gear as Betty Gilpin’s Mississippi also wanders into the gas station and from then on in then tables begin to turn as the libs begin to get owned by a woman with a surprising amount of fight in her, setting her on a collision course with head hunter Athena (Hilary Swank), who’s been training for the hunt for a while and who knows just how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Hold on, Athena, I’m coming over.
Subtle this ain’t, as you’ve probably guessed. Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s screenplay rushes the story from one action set piece to the next, stopping only to lay down some satire which might best be described as clunky. Yes, it’s refreshing that both sides of the political spectrum are lampooned but the swipes are taken with such broad strokes that I find it difficult to see how this was ever controversial. Democrat or Republican, I’m not sure how you’d get upset about this unless you’re one of the snowflakes a particular character calls her fellow man.
The liberals point out tweets of theirs which have been liked by Ava DuVernay, the rednecks go on about needing to own seven guns. We’re at that level of caricature and while it’s amusing in places it’s also not really hitting where it should hurt. Pulling its punches ultimately doesn’t do the piece any favours because the dialogue on either side of the divide ends up being agreeably daft at best, frustratingly toothless at worst.
Still, if the satire doesn’t land, the action certainly does as Mississippi reveals herself to be something of a killing machine and, in time honoured fashion, the hunters inevitably become the hunted. A third-act, kitchen-based scrap is a highlight and almost worth the admission on its own and if you’re looking for disposable folk meeting gory ends then this film is going to tick that box and then some.
Beyond that, it’s worth seeing this for Betty Gilpin’s performance as the awkward, rather taciturn focus of the plot who only really breaks her usual sparing responses when she’s explaining why she’s just planted someone’s face into a counter or to give an especially brutal retelling of the classic story about the tortoise and the hare. It’s a contained, intriguing performance and I couldn’t get enough of the close-ups, where you’re left wondering just how much is going on behind that impassive façade.
In a smaller role, Hilary Swank is coolly hilarious as Athena, ready to murder her political opposites on sight but also being totally aware of the ramifications of the collateral damage being a ridiculously expensive bottle of vintage bubbly. For various reasons we’re only gives us brief glimpses of Athena before unveiling her properly later in the proceedings and it’s a shame that Swank isn’t given more screen time but she makes every moment count once she’s finally let loose.
One thing I can say about The Hunt is that it doesn’t hang about getting down to the business of the plot. So many people die in the first 25 minutes I did wonder how they might fill the rest of the running time. There’s very little, if any, fat in the 89 minutes and, if anything, it feels slightly underdeveloped or edited with a tad too much gusto. I wouldn’t have minded if it had stopped for breath more and opened out the plot a little.
An uneasy mix of crowd-pleasing, bloody action and clumsy political parody, The Hunt is fun while it lasts but the controversy it’s trailing in its wake seems mostly unfounded. As such, it’s entertaining but almost entirely unmemorable and only distinguished by fine performances from Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank. Should you hunt it down? On balance, I’d say yes but don’t go in expecting something truly radical because you’re not going to get it. Now, where’s my BBQ ribs and quinoa?
Rating: 3 / 5