NBFF Reviews: Rushlights And The Hunt

the hunt thumb whysobluTuesday night at the 2013 Newport Beach Film Festival was a bit of a dark one, as both films settled into dramatic territory, with one pulling this off way more effectively than the other.  To put it bluntly, on this night I saw both my worst film of the festival so far and my best film of the festival so far.  Rushlights was a silly crime thriller that amounted to nothing special, while The Hunt was a compelling drama that needed no more than characters and dialogue to keep it effective throughout.  The night could be deemed bittersweet, in a way, as I only saw one good film, but the fact that The Hunt was the film I ended my night of screenings on is bittersweet in and of itself, as the movie was very good, but deals with intense subject matter that really had me riled up at points.  Regardless, I at least have the chance to share my thoughts on these films and why one of them should be sought out.

Rushlights (Movie Review)

Rushlights plot summary goes a little like this:  Two delinquent young lovers from the suburbs of Los Angeles (Haley Webb and Josh Henderson), traveling to a small Texas town to falsely claim a dead friend’s inheritance, wind up in a nightmare of greed and betrayal in the twisted and bizarre underworld of Tremo, TX.  When the nature of an estate owner’s death is called into question, things start to get complicated, and the grifters find themselves caught between the local sheriff (Beau Bridges) and a lineup of other claimants to the fortune.

The film wishes it could be as clever and well-made as something like the Coen Brothers films Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men, but it instead feels like a complete misfire, more easily comparable to the sub-par Oliver Stone film U-Turn.  Both of these films are twisty crime thrillers set in the Midwest, but at least with a forgettable film such as U-Turn you have good actors to pick up some of the slack (Sean Penn, Billy Bob Thorton, etc.).  Rushlights is not so lucky, as many of the performances register as way too over the top or too bland to really make you care.

rushlights 1

In the realm of over the top, Beau Bridges and Aidan Quinn battle over who can deliver the better country drawl, while Crispian Belfrage does his best to provide the most over-the-top English villain that has not been in a Harry Potter film.  On the bland side, Josh Henderson (of the current version of Dallas fame), in the leading male role, does little to have us care about how this character comes out of the mess he gets himself into.  Only Haley Webb comes out on top here, as her performance at least had something that seemed to work for the film.

As far as the story is concerned, Rushlights does not really rise to the occasion when it comes to setting up and delivering upon the surprises supposedly in store for the audience.  It is very easy to see where everything is going and actually becomes laughable when certain big scenes happen (the use of a shotgun made me laugh out loud twice).  One could argue that the film, given the visual style and handling of the tone in spots, was going for playing itself as big and as theatrical as possible, but then the issue comes down to how that plan suffers from a cast that does not pull this off and a story that is not interesting enough for me to care how it was put onto screen.

I knew the basic details of what kind of film I was getting into and expected Rushlights to maybe come off as a decent B-movie thriller.  Instead, a much lower grade came to mind, as I tried to stay awake throughout the film that seemed to be in no rush to make me bored and looking forward to my next screening.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

rushlights poster

The Hunt (Movie Review)

Jagten (or The Hunt) is a Danish film, starring Mads Mikkelsen (currently seen on NBC’s Hannibal), who won the Best Actor award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his work in this film as Lucas.  Here is the NBFF summary:  A disturbing depiction of how a lie becomes the truth when gossip, doubt, and malice are allowed to flourish.  Lucas is a highly-regarded school teacher who has been forced to start over having recently overcome a tough divorce.  However, his life is soon shattered when a hideous, untruthful accusation ignites a witch-hunt that threatens to destroy his life.  The lie is spreading quickly through the small community, and Lucas is forced to fight a lonely fight for his career, his family, and his dignity.

I have mainly seen Mikkelsen in roles that require him to either play a villain or some sort of character with darker intentions.  It is incredibly impressive that Mikkelsen is not only playing a good person, but makes you feel utterly sympathetic for him.  Given the issue that turns Lucas’ life into a living hell, it would be hard to not sympathize with anyone that were to be in the same situation, but to put credit where credit is due, Mikkelsen is fantastic in this film.  Every chance he is given to express some type of emotion, whether it is bewilderment to others in regards to his situation, love for his son, or justified frustration at what is transpiring, based on false accusation, Mikkelsen nails the way to play it.

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The story itself is very hard to take in at points, given the way characters go about with their choices.  Things escalate to an out of control level very quickly, despite having originating elements that could have been cleared up in five minutes, were certain people not acting in an incredulous manner and handling the situation with more tact.  However, because of the wrong choices being made, nearly all of Lucas’ friends and acquaintances become callous and belligerent, leading me to become incredibly frustrated with the situations presented.

There are two films that came to mind as I watched The Hunt.  The first was a film I was only okay with, and that was 2011’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, which starred Tilda Swinton in a great performance.  Similar to that film, The Hunt had me so fed up at points, given what I knew to be true versus what others were refusing to comprehend, that I had a hard time not squirming in my seat at points.  I believe The Hunt succeeds over ‘Kevin’ for me, because I guess I was just happier knowing that something could presumably be done to solve the situation at hand, even if I have to wallow in a lot of drama, before reaching that point.

The other film that came to mind was the wonderful 2011 drama A Separation, which had a lot more in the way of presenting a moral grey area in regards to who was in the wrong for that story, but still presented a fascinating character study, with little in the way of anything else aside from strong acting and writing to really sell what is happening.  The Hunt is very similar in that regard and had me just as compelled, despite the seemingly little that was going on in scenes, aside from characters arguing.

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Perhaps the argument can be made that The Hunt borders on misery porn, as we keep seeing things become darker and darker for a character who certainly does not deserve this kind of trouble in his life, but I was so compelled by where the story was going, which eventually led to an ultimate conclusion that was not as neat as it initially may have seemed.  It did not hurt that a bit of a break in the story was given about midway through, as the perspectives slightly shifted and other characters provided a bit of relief amidst the continual drama unfolding.  Regardless, I was already fine with the dark path we were going down, even if I was ready to yell at certain characters in this movie.

The Hunt is a fine piece of filmmaking.  With minimal score, imagery set around only a few locations, and a handful of main characters, director Thomas Vinterberg does a fantastic job with a well throughout story that is not the easiest to watch unfold.  Mikkelsen is fantastic in the lead role and does such a great job at keeping you invested just to see if he is able to come out of this whole ordeal in one piece.  For those in search of a good foreign drama, The Hunt is definitely a strong film to consider.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

the hunt poster

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website,
and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week
for more of my coverage of the festival!


Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


1 Response to “NBFF Reviews: Rushlights And The Hunt”

  1. Brian White

    Whoa! From one extreme to the other. So the first movie is on par with Ghost Rider 2, but the second movie looks fantastic!