Who is The Hunt for, exactly? Its muddled message and inconsistent tone make it somewhat hard to follow. But by the end, you're left asking "Exactly who (or what?) am I supposed to be rooting for here?" Despite all of that, there is some buried wisdom among the nihilistic ultraviolence that offers a bleak, but perhaps hopeful, view of a path forward.
No doubt The Hunt will be one of the most misunderstood films of 2020. Already pushed back because of controversy over the El Paso mass shootings in 2019, the movie is supposed to be about a group of "deplorables" (the word they use in the script) brought to a secluded area to be hunted by ultra-rich liberals.
Huh. So, that's an interesting take on "The Most Dangerous Game," a story which is just shy of a century old. I can't wait for the version of the bad takes on this movie a la Marriage Story, except instead of arguing over whether the film takes his side or her side, Fox News is going to say The Hunt is about Hollywood gleefully killing off conservatives (a gleefully bad take if they'd actually bothered to see the film and go anywhere below basic surface understanding), and progressive Film Twitter will cancel all of the deplorables and say they had it coming. Sigh.
And it's why The Hunt is so hard to understand. Are we supposed to root for the racist, sexist victims here? Bravo for the film in casting people like Ike Barinholtz and Ethan Suplee who really lean into the distasteful elements of their characters so we enjoy watching their eventual deaths, just like any good slasher movie should. But then, late in the film, it tries to humanize and contextualize our billionaire sadists as well, and it's just an impossible turn to take.
So we're left rooting for Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a cipher of a character who doesn't say much and trusts everyone even less. But she's little more than a red state version of a "final girl" archetype from most horror films mixed with some Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" icy detachment. Are we supposed to root for her? I guess, and Gilpin is doing her best here, but it's just incredibly hard because there's not much to root for.
And then there's the movie's tone. The Hunt is bloody and seems to revel in its violence. There are heads blown up, impalings on spikes, exposed intestines when people lose the bottom halves of their bodies. You see, the rich are just like us. They love seeing this stuff and really get off on it! They love to torture people literally dragged from the comments sections of the internet. Yikes.
This brings us to the dark satire which is mostly about skewering the self-righteous, performative bull$#!t of limousine liberalism. Some of it lands and is funny, but most of it bombs with a dull thud, as it's just not as funny to make NPR jokes when you're murdering poor people for sport.
And that's the problem with The Hunt. It's all performative. The violence is over the top. The satire is very specific and yet. . . what is the actual point we're making here? I expect better from Damon Lindelof and his Watchmen co-scribe Nick Cuse. They're hitting on a lot of the same themes Watchmen did, but nowhere near as effectively.
Without getting into spoilers, there is some deeper meaning in The Hunt, but you have to go really deep. In fact, it may be that I'm just imputing all of my own personal political biases here, but the "a curse on both your houses" take of the film is a sort of nice starting place in a call for more civility. The movie's nihilism ends up being about everyone acting on all their own worst instincts and misjudging others. So maybe we can all stop shouting at each other, blaming each other for wacko conspiracy theories, calling each other stupid names like snowflake and deplorable, and just talk to one another.
It's a nice thought, but probably not what the vast majority of filmgoers will take away from it. A pity. Because indulging in the violence and gleefully watching awful people get their explosive comeuppance is probably not a good impulse for 2020.