When its release was pushed back last year, the controversy around “The Hunt” was that it was a political hack job but, if anything, the bloody thriller is too wishy-washy.
Yanked after a presidential tweet alleged the thriller was designed to “inflame and cause chaos,” “The Hunt” is an update of the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” in which the wealthy hunt the less fortunate for sport. The added “Hunt” wrinkle, which seems intended as satire, is that the hunters are squishy liberals and their prey are narrow-minded conservatives, who have been rounded up on the basis of social media activity.
Not surprisingly, the movie is on the side of those who are being slaughtered with a “Final Destination” level of brutality, which means, ironically, that the president might like “The Hunt” more than he thought.
Smug liberals are the bad guys in “The Hunt” and they’re the targets of most of the best jokes, whether to lampoon virtue signifying (as one killer prepares to deliver the coup de grâce, he shouts, “For the record, climate change is real!”) or blue-state fatuousness (“Wow! Ava DuVernay just liked one of my posts!”). Nobody comes off particularly well but, given that they’re coldblooded murderers and hypocrites, the liberal hunters definitely are worse. (Apparently, the hunters support gun control except when they’re blowing off the heads of “hicks.”)
It’s smart of the creators, who include “Watchmen” showrunner Damon Lindelof, to neutralize gender issues in the movie by having women lead both sides: Hilary Swank’s soulless tycoon is the head hunter, and a mysterious Mississippian, inventively played by Betty Gilpin from “GLOW,” is the most resourceful of the prey. It seems inevitable that they’ll face off and that is indeed what happens in the film’s climax, which falls flat because we’ve seen it coming for so long and because, by that point, this reasonably clever movie has run out of surprises.
Another thing the movie has run out of by that point is ideas. If it had the courage of its convictions, it would target liberals or conservatives for satire — either would work but since the movie starts with liberals, it would make sense to stick with that idea. But “The Hunt” opted to play it safe and offend everybody equally. Instead of satire, it goes with nihilism, which is a reasonable response to our sharply divided era but it’s not satisfying as drama.
As a result, moviegoers of all political affiliations will probably be able to reach across the aisle and agree that “The Hunt” needs more of this kind of thing, which occurs right after an ally watches Gilpin blow away a lib: “How did you know he was lying?”/”Because everyone is lying.”