The experience is all first-class: a private jet takes you to The Manor, there, users are treated to the finest in dining, fantastic furnishings, and an unparalleled experience. However, the boutique hunting retreat that draws millionaires and billionaires from all over the world isn’t for rare game, it’s for people. Rumors of The Manor’s existence have spread onto the internet but are dismissed easily as conspiracy theories and fake news. It isn’t until twelve strangers wake up gagged and bound in the middle nowhere that the hoax becomes real. While this game seems like it’s perfectly tailored for Saw, The Hunt is more in-line with Lord of the Flies. These twelve middle-class strangers aren’t being hunted for some moral retribution of past sins, it’s merely a fun past time for some of the wealthiest people on Earth.
For all their wealth and wisdom, the group made a fatal error when they picked Crystal (Betty Gilpin) to include in their game. By ripping the license plate off a nearby car, Crystal reveals that they aren’t in Arkansas, they’re in Croatia. Until she speaks up, the others can’t come to grips with the fact that a hushed internet rumor is now dangerously real for them. They can’t pretend that this isn’t happening to them, they have to fight. Crystal operates as a level-up for the group, leaping to action, and giving the hunted a chance to turn the game back on those hunting them. She knows the woman behind it all (Hilary Swank) and Crystal will do anything to get to her.
On the surface, The Hunt resembles straight-forward hack ’em ups like Blumhouse‘s The Purge, but Craig Zobel (of Z for Zachariah and Homestar Runner) has a little more on his mind. Don’t get me wrong, the film is bloody, but it’s never without some presence of social commentary. Hillary Swank running a cabal of global elites hunting middle-Americans is only uncomfortably on-the-nose because there are so many news outlets peddling conspiracy theories. When trolls used media to push “Pizzagate,” endangering the lives of families going to a pizza restaurant, Fox News said nothing. It’s quite ironic that news organizations that gleefully spread disinformation would whip themselves into a frenzy over this. Zobel and Damon Lindelof aren’t just slashing characters up left and right, they want you to think of the casual use of politically loaded terms like “globalists” and “deplorables,” as well as the dehumanizing effect that has on people.
The tone of the film isn’t exploitative, rather a polemic that skewers both the extremes of the left/right. Political satire requires a deft touch and sometimes the film wields a hammer when it should be using a scalpel. When your film is an overt metaphor for political discourse, there isn’t a need for dialogue explaining the metaphor. People will figure it out on their own. It is fair to question how much “both sides” are to blame, but the script, written by Nick Cuse and Lindelof, acknowledges there is barely a middle ground in the current U.S. Which is where Crystal’s character comes into play. Instead of making Crystal’s character a rallying cry for either party, she’s apolitical, caring less about partisan battle lines than about eking out a living. She represents on a singular level, the average American who doesn’t ingest the partisan battle lines. She’s just trying to survive the day. Literally.
As effective as any satire can be, the story will fall flat without a compelling protagonist to lead the way through. And Betty Gilpin (GLOW) is more than capable of putting the film on her back. Gilpin has drawn raves for her role as Liberty Belle on Glow, a single mother/wrestler whose determination and vision set her apart from other women of the era. It was inevitable that Gilpin plays a final girl, and Crystal fits the bill in every way. She’s more than capable with a weapon and deadlier with a one-liner. The camera work captures the frenzy onscreen, satisfying gorehounds, but the highlight of the film is the fight that takes place between Crystal and Hilary Swank’s crazed 1%er.
Swank heads a very game supporting cast made up of Glenn Howerton, Amy Madigan, and Ethan Suplee don’t have to toe the line that Gilpin does, allowing them to chew through the scenery allotted. Not to be outdone, Swank goes full pineapple-glazed ham, elevating the villainy above simple monologuing. Most of the characters are broad stereotypes making the divide between sides more apparent, which is where the film loses its edge. A film that lambasts both sides of the political spectrum for failing to see the humanity in each other, doesn’t give viewers a way to bridge the gap either.
Of course, maybe that’s the joke. The Hunt wants us to recognize ourselves in this heightened reality, but all we can appreciate is the bloodlust of watching the other side get obliterated.