The Hunt (2020)

Although it is highly unlikely, it would be interesting to imagine that The Hunt originated as a spin-off to Adam McKay’s Vice. What I specifically have in mind is the film’s final scene where a brawl erupts between attendees at a focus group meeting. Someone is called a ‘libtard’, somebody else gets accused of ‘hiring an orange cheeto to be president’ and then it comes to blows. This film, directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance) and co-written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, honestly feels like a spiritual successor to this scene – a fantasy where somebody gives these folks guns and watches as they blow each other to smithereens.  

In theory, a gory slasher is a perfect template to anchor an allegorical social commentary and, fundamentally, this is what The Hunt tries to become. To this end, it uses mechanical elements lifted from Battle Royale and The Hunger Games and crafts a basic narrative landscape to execute a genre story meant to incite and/or comment on politically-charged topics. But it doesn’t work. At all.  

There are at least two basic ways a film like this one can be executed: (1) it can hide its satire beneath a veneer of genre seriousness (e.g. Dawn Of The Dead) , or (2) embrace its self-awareness and thrive on its playfulness (e.g. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil). Sadly, The Hunt fails to commit to either of these philosophies. In fact, by treading the middle of the road, the filmmakers manage to undermine both of them in equal measure. The film isn’t playful enough to pass itself off as a comedic satire and it isn’t exhilarating enough to stand on its own two feet as a visceral and horrific gorefest. To be completely frank, it comes across as pretentious and the only thing it excels at is undercutting its own take-home message by continually reiterating its own moral stance from atop a figurative high horse.  

Imagine watching Airplane or The Naked Gun and failing to find them funny. The experience of sitting through The Hunt is broadly comparable to that, or better yet, to being trapped at an unsuccessful stand-up comedy routine. It’s awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved, sort of like listening to your dad as he tries to sound knowledgeable and in tune with the youth of today. At this point, one could honestly imagine that the fact this film was pulled from release (presumably because it would have been seen as insensitive to do so in the wake of a massacre), was a bit of a mixed blessing, because it gave the film a modicum of cult notoriety. If it had been released theatrically to the kind of mediocre fanfare most genre releases receive, it would have disappeared from everyone’s radars in the nick of time. Alas, it is now destined to become a dubious cult classic like The Cabin In The Woods, even though it is at best an illustration of what older people think young people are into.  

In all seriousness, The Hunt is a bad movie through-and-through. It’s written like an episode of South Park but with not enough bite to fully succeed as one. Moreover, it is filmed in such a bizarre way which is both deliberately confusing and uninspired at the same time. It clearly owes a lot to a whole set of much better genre films, but it just doesn’t have enough meat on the bone to warrant a satisfying experience. In fact, for a barely ninety-minute affair, it is surprisingly difficult to sit through. Not because it’s violent or gruesome; far from it. The Hunt is tedious, shoddily put together and not at all likable. It’s a genre equivalent of a middle-class liberal who tries to fit in with the cool kids but can’t because his blood is no longer as hot as it used to be and hence all he can muster is an incoherent string of buzzwords looked up on Urban Dictionary. 

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