12th Mar2020

‘The Hunt’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Betty Gilpin, Ethan Suplee, Ike Barinholtz, Hilary Swank, Emma Roberts, Macon Blair, Amy Madigan, J.C. MacKenzie, Justin Hartley | Written by Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof | Directed by Craig Zobel

the-hunt-poster

Genre specialists Blumhouse Productions deliver another winner with this violent and satirical thriller The Hunt, which sees liberal elites hunting “deplorables” for sport. Combining deliciously dark humour with smartly judged gore moments and a terrific lead performance, it’s one of the genre highlights of the year.

Directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance) and co-written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse (both of whom worked on The Leftovers), The Hunt begins with twelve total strangers – one of whom is played by Emma Roberts – waking up in a clearing with no memory of how they got there. Some of them quickly work out what’s going on, citing recent internet rumours of something called “Manorgate”, where wealthy liberal elites supposedly hunt and kill working class people (i.e. Trump voters) for sport.

Sure enough, bullets start flying and the victims are forced to flee for their lives. However, mysterious crop-topped blonde Crystal (Glow’s Betty Gilpin) is determined to fight back, turning the tables on her assailants and taking them out one by one.

Zobel sets the tone early on with a series of jet-black gags, including a comedy landmine explosion (complete with a look to camera that’s pure Wile E. Coyote) and a sequence that involves the same person landing in a spike pit twice. The script also delights in wrong-footing genre expectactions, introducing several characters at the beginning only to kill them off immediately afterwards.

Similarly, Zobel directs with a real sense of pace and efficiency, packing a huge amount of action into the film’s trim 90 minutes and waiting just a single scene before the gore starts flying. To that end, the gore is nicely handled, striking the right balance between horror and black comedy while still having a decent splatter factor.

The script’s reversal of the standard horror tropes (usually it’s liberals fleeing gun-toting rednecks, not the other way round) cleverly forces the audience to question their in-built assumptions, while a late plot development hammers home the film’s real message, none of which it would be fair to reveal here.

The central conceit also allows for a very funny running joke, whereby the liberal elites are constantly upbraiding each other for being politically incorrect – as one of them points out when they’re choosing their victims in a flashback scene, “If we don’t have at least one person of colour in here, it’s going to be problematic…”

Performance-wise, there’s a clear stand-out in the formidable form of Betty Gilpin. As Crystal, she delivers an extraordinary turn that single-handedly takes the film to another level. In particular, there’s an element of strangeness to it that’s simultaneously endearing and unsettling, not least because the script refuses to fill in the gaps – we learn she’s probably ex-military, but there’s an awful lot going on under the surface that goes unstated.

On top of that, Gilpin busts out some kick-ass fight moves, not least in a show-stopping set-piece punch-up with Hilary Swank (clearly having a whale of a time as the film’s ultra-liberal baddie), which features inventive and grisly use of a handful of kitchen implements.

In short, The Hunt is enormous fun and there’s more than enough reason to be thankful that the studio decided to release it after all, having previously pulled it in the wake of a mass shooting and – hilariously – a Presidential overreaction to the premise. Whatever your political persuasion, you’ll get a kick out of this. Hunt it down, asap.

**** 4/5

The Hunt is in UK cinemas now.

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