“The most talked about film of the year is one nobody’s seen.. yet.”
So says the trailer for The Hunt, a film originally scheduled for release in September of last year before America’s mass shooting problem caused its delay until this past month. The intrigue over its postponement turned out to be something of a gift, creating an unusual marketing strategy that played on its delay as a reason the film has to be seen. Don’t be fooled – it may protest some innocence, but this film laps up the controversies of the real world both within and outside of its bloody plot.
What no-one involved saw coming was that, like so many others, its release would succumb to the relentless and cruel pandemic that has invaded all corners of the world. In the face of this strange and hopefully short-term threat, Universal have seen fit to release this and other movies to isolated audiences early; as of March 20th – nine days after the film’s cinematic debut – Craig Zobel’s film can now be rented from a number of digital platforms.
So what exactly can one-time cinemagoers and house-bound film fans expect from The Hunt? Well, in a way (as the old saying goes) “exactly what it says on the tin”: with only the briefest of backstories, the film follows a dozen strangers who awaken bound and gagged in a grand but vague location, to be picked off by members of the nefarious ‘Elite’ in their “Manor Games”. Whilst many prove themselves to indeed be mere target practice, the plot does come to evolve some from slaughter to revolt.
Make no mistake, whilst this film was delayed against the backdrop of the Second Amendment, its provocation of other current affairs likely did it no favours. The same forums (online or otherwise) that are satirized here – The Oval Office, Fox News, Reddit, conspiracy theory podcasts – are the ones that likely had the biggest problems with it, and gun violence, rampant and plentiful as it may be throughout, forms only a small part of the film’s many talking points. Phone hacking, freedom of speech, class warfare, even PTSD – whilst producer Jason Blum has said that “None of us were interested in taking sides with this movie“, The Hunt clearly substitutes a definite stance in order to tackle a great many ‘hot takes’. Maybe it’s ridiculous and maybe it’s reckless, but the film-makers have here utilised a wide cast of characters to personify many of the world’s modern day debates.
Underneath all this cross-examination (which will undoubtedly turn off many viewers) is a genre parody similar to the absurd horror of Cabin in the Woods. This simple tale of bloodsport, which initially seems to be the latest You’re Next / The Purge cash-in, does in fact wield a great deal of intelligence. For starters, there’s the lead character and her main antagonist both being female. Obviously (and happily) this is no longer such an on-screen oddity, but there are unfortunately those who may still resent such casting. It’s a stroke of mild genius that this facet of the film will be largely shielded from sexist criticisms by the more obvious talking points. This is also a film clearly indebted to more famous socio-horrors, as the opening scramble alone plays like a hyperactive Battle Royale married to a loop of the first five minutes of Scream.
If survival of the fittest is your thing, you’ll enjoy seeing hero Crystal rise to the position of “Most Able (or, Only) Badass”. Traditional character development was apparently all reserved for Betty Gilpin’s character, and that isn’t such a bad thing – it best sets her up as our Asskicker-in-Chief. It doesn’t hurt that Gilpin has some experience as the athletic, take-no-prisoners type, having cut her teeth for some years now as professional wrestler “Liberty Belle” in Netflix’s outstanding GLOW. There’s both intelligence and ability in her character, with just the hint of an unspoken, painful past.
Hopefully, the furore around the film is enough to attract viewers without the need for trailers, which seem determined to spoil many of the film’s most shocking, surprising and visceral moments. There is of course fun to be found in the sudden and ever-lurking danger that snaps around every corner, and it would be a shame to be deprived of such a release. These trailers will also undermine the slow-build unveiling of The Hunt‘s villanous overseer – Athena. Her Olympian name alone shows her latent and determined power (such immortal references are usually reserved for macho men like Rocky‘s Apollo Creed), and she lives up to her divine namesake whilst proving a match for Crystal’s relentless abilities. Yes, it is odd to draw out a big reveal in an original feature like this, but in the place of a well-known character or source material this is a deft use of an ancient trope of the action genre – the actor’s star power.
The crashes, the kills, the decoys – as spectacular as they may be, they’re all just leading to the film’s ‘Final Boss Battle’, where Crystal and Athena finally come to blows. Their domestic-set, destruction-heavy deathmatch is just a pair of katana away from a full-on Kill Bill homage, whilst remaining outrageous, inventive, and sensational. The hits come thick and fast, are fierce and violent – and again, stand at risk of exposure from the film’s trailers.
Those who have already defied virus and controversy to watch The Hunt will have found a rampage of carnage and gore that never succumbs to the lure of torture porn; whilst there is enough bloodshed to attract the bloodthirsty late-night crowd, there are also fair servings of street smarts and sharp wit. As things stand, watching it now may even make one yearn for the not-so-distant past, where the contest between left and right was all that dominated the news. With it’s apparently-steep price point and bulging social commentary, The Hunt may not be the most widely-accessible means of escape available to a world gripped by lockdown, but it’s ninety minutes of wild entertainment that one way or another will remind you of the world we have waiting for us “when all this is over”.
The Hunt is available to rent now from Amazon, iTunes and other digital platforms. Have you seen it? If so, what are your thoughts on the movie? Let us know in the comments section of our website or on our Twitter and Instagram accounts.