The Hunt is one of those films that I knew I just had to see when it came out.
Because it’s been mired in controversy since someone even breathed the notion for the idea upon which it’s based: a bunch of rich, liberal bastards kidnap and hunt people on the opposite side of political spectrum for sport and to the death. In an increasingly incomprehensible, unnuanced, and shouty political arena, The Hunt sort of seemed like the perfect movie to reflect that; a tossing-up of the hands, a fuck it, fine. A completely awful take.
But, despite that, this movie went through a well-publicised mess of being shelved, planned, shelved again, and then finally released, as the controversial premise put off audiences before they’d so much as seen it. Pitching itself as “The most talked about movie that no-one’s actually seen yet”, The Hunt, directed by Craig Zobel and written by Damon Lindelof (who I just can’t seem to get away from recently), seemed to embrace that chaos as part of its very marketing campaign.
And so, it’s out, and so, I saw it, because whenever people are arguing over a movie, I am compelled to march right into the middle of that and make a nuisance of myself. First and foremost, I suppose, this is a review, and that review has to answer a simple question: is this a good film?
As an action-thriller with a dry sense of humour and some cracking fight scenes, The Hunt is a really pretty damn serviceable little movie. Damon Lindelof, the man accused of turning Watchmen into Wokemen, has a lot of fun lambasting the very liberal echelons that he’s often lumped in with; great cameos from actors like Amy Madigan (who, in this house, we fucking stan) and Glenn Howerton bring them to life with ice-cold comic wit. Betty Gilpin, our lead as one of the kidnapped victims of the hunt, puts in a sensationally commanding performance – deadpan, grizzled, and totally watchable, it’s an unusual and genuinely brilliant central turn that gives the film something to hang on. A thrilling, inventive climactic battle and a deliciously entertaining Hilary Swank arch-villain performance pull it all together – these two hours go by quickly, and they’re pretty damn entertaining to boot.
But what about the politics? That’s what everyone was so worried about, after all. But, truthfully, it’s hard to see why. Yes, it’s a catchy and controversial one-line pitch to get people riled up, but, fundamentally, The Hunt offers a pretty simple and unarguable premise: people in power are always going to use that power to fuck over the people underneath them. While the film doesn’t exactly seem delighted with the political actions of the people who get scooped up as victims, it’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that it doesn’t believe that their choices justify the way that they are treated. Whether they’re wearing the pretense of political correctness or not, these are, at their core, people who are using their position to make sure that they can establish their own form of truth and enact justice the way they see fit.
The film might have inverted the traditional holders of villainy, but, other than that, it’s a pretty recognizable version of this story. Power corrupts – absolute power allows you to spend eight months training to murder people with your bare hands for fun. The Hunt, with its sharp wit, great action, and propulsive central performance from Betty Gilpin, is worth far more than just the controversy that surrounds it.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Vox)