The Hunt Is On For Those Darn Deplorables (Movie Review)

After a nearly six-month delay, Universal/Blumhouse is releasing Craig Zobel’s lightning rod horror/political satire/action flick, The Hunt. Derided by our current POTUS – based on his shortsighted take on the initial trailer – the story concerns a small group of liberal elites who hunt and kill “deplorables” for sport. Recent shootings in both El Passo and Dayton supposedly made releasing such a potentially polarizing film a deal-breaker, so the film was shelved… until now.

As the citizens of planet Earth fear a real-life viral outbreak more than mass shooters (these truly are the end days folks), the movie is set to hit theaters all over. Was the wait worth it? Will audiences predisposed to either the left or right be offended? As far as this writer is concerned, any kind of movie that ignites a national conversation is a win. Still, one hopes for a film which is as entertaining as it is topical, right? Read on to find out if this Hunt is worth suiting up for…

I don’t know the politics of the filmmakers. I would think, from the production notes given by Universal, they are more left-leaning than right, but an immediate strength of The Hunt is that for something so politically-charged, it doesn’t get on any kind of soapbox.

Opening with a text chain in which we only see a hand and a smartphone, it’s clear someplace called “The Manor” and being able to take out “deplorables” is on someone’s mind. Is it a joke? Are they just venting because the latest news about the president has put them in a funk? We have no idea what POTUS has done this time, but it’s clear the unseeable texters are full-on triggered.

Right away, I felt confident this was going to be a trip worth taking. Screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof have said what they found intriguing was how information can so quickly escalate things to dangerous levels on both sides of the political spectrum.  The resulting ninety minutes is an action-packed and often funny meditation on such a notion.

The main story features a small group of captives who have awakened in a lush green forest with their mouths gagged. Soon, most of them will be killed with no hope of escaping the fabled Manor.

Some fun casting choices like Emma Roberts and Amy Madigan, who play people on opposite sides, pop up. The deadly stakes are made clear early on. Beyond the quick, bloody, ultra-violent kills, Zobel keeps this train moving briskly. In fact, there’s even a brief stint on a literal train.

Traditionally, more right-leaning filmmakers have a hard time satirizing the left without the characters becoming shrill caricatures. Take the villain of libertarian filmmaker Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters as a prime example. He’s not sympathetic at all. Or how about the mean-spirited welfare family members who make life even more of a hell for Hilary Swank’s boxer in Clint Eastwood’s otherwise masterful Million Dollar Baby.

By contrast, The Hunt (which also co-stars Swank) is much looser and lets you make up your own mind about what you’re seeing onscreen. Zobel’s direction is razor-sharp, but the script is the right kind of ambiguous (it might even be a litmus test of sorts to see what folks are leaning towards at the beginning versus the end). One takeaway is that the film is, ultimately, very centrist, which is as it should be.

In between an elitist like the one played by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton and the paranoid right-wing podcaster played by Ethan Suplee, who’s billed in the credits as “(Shut the F##@ Up) Gary” is Crystal (Betty Gilpin). Referred to as “Snowball” by the elite’s leader, Athena (Swank), she’s the film’s true lead.

Gilpin is probably best known as Debbie on Netflix’s GLOW. She honestly has no weak moments. It’s a star-making role. Like Samara Weaving as the bride in last year’s Ready or Not, the smarts and our empathy rest entirely on her shoulders. Crystal has to be one step ahead of both sides. She literally and figuratively has to navigate all kinds of bombs.

The highlight is The Hunt’s climactic kitchen fight. Outside of John Wick or the bathroom brawl in Mission Impossible: Fallout, this is the best fight scene in years. All of Gilpin’s GLOW stunt work is on display here, as she spars against an always game Swank. Every bone rattle and piercing blade is felt. Best of all, when the two stop for a second for a chat, you’ll want to hear what they have to say. Just how did this get so out of hand?

In hindsight, it’s maybe a little too literal to get Cuse/Lindelof’s message that both sides of our country must stop trying to obliterate each other, and instead, just shut up and listen. Yet, this is where were are now. So, what better way is there than to pair a vintage bottle of champagne with bullets, deception, and corpses. Viva la Manor!

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