Review: 'The Hunt' misses target as cultural commentary

Aiming for edgy, human hunting thriller misses its mark

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Liberals, conservatives, elites, deplorables: in the politically charged satirical thriller "The Hunt," everyone is insufferable. 

More to the point, everyone is on the hook. If only "The Hunt" were as sharp or as daring as it likes to think it is, it would be easier to take its message to heart: in these deeply divisive times, we all need to take a deep breath, calm down, and stop trying to kill each other. Literally, in this case.   

Betty Gilpin in "The Hunt."

Which is true, of course. The problem with "The Hunt" is it backs itself into a corner and its only way out is to go apolitical. It's as if it's washing its hands of its very premise and saying, "hey guys, you figure this one out."

That's fair — as much as current situations have us choosing sides, we are not the sum of our politics — but narratively speaking, it comes off as a cop out. 

Here are the basics: A group of super rich elite-types round up a dozen rednecks to kill for sport, "The Most Dangerous Game"-style (or "Surviving the Game," if you prefer your references through Ice-T movies).

One by one, these Red Staters wake up to the reality that they're the prey in a sick game of human hunting, and for the most part, they're disposed of quickly. (There are some familiar faces in the cast, including Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Sturgill Simpson and Ethan Suplee, but it's best not to get too attached to any of them, if you catch my drift.) 

From the group, a hero arises: Crystal, played by Betty Gilpin from Netflix's "Glow," who hails from Mississippi and speaks with a Southern drawl but is quickly revealed to be smarter than the rest of the hunted. She's the only one who gets to make jokes that she is not the butt of, and it's clear she's the only character with whom the audience is meant to identify or sympathize. As such, she keeps her affiliations close to her chest, as a benefit more to the audience than her character. 

Crystal is wise, strong, tough and resourceful, and she finds her way through the game, as it were, to its leader, Athena (Hilary Swank).

Athena is at the center of a controversy known as "Manor-gate," about which online rumors swirled that she was hunting humans for sport. It was fake news, but she decided to one-up the internet by actually following through with what it was she was being accused of. The news cycle has made us all crazy, you see? 

Writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof lob all sorts of jokes and jabs aimed at both sides of the aisle, including gags about NPR listeners, refugees being accused of being "crisis actors" and getting likes from Ava DuVernay on Twitter. (One joke that doesn't land: a guy gets shot with an arrow and in his dying breath makes an "Avatar" reference. Sorry, lost me; no one makes "Avatar" references, ever.) 

Our commander in chief's name is never mentioned, but there's little coding going on here otherwise. It's a movie where characters are their wardrobes and everything is surface level. 

Director Craig Zobel ("Compliance") has fashioned a decent action movie that fails as cultural commentary. 

"The Hunt" was originally supposed to be released in September 2019 but was shelved in the wake of a pair of mass shootings; it's now being released as coronavirus concerns are sweeping the country. It's a cursed project. 

It's a movie that's trying to hold up a mirror to modern America and show us that we all need to come together or we're all going to go off the deep end and do something we really regret. Right message, wrong movie.  

'The Hunt' 


Rated R: for strong bloody violence, and language throughout

Running time: 115 minutes