The Hunt (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Liberal elites hunting deplorable conservatives

Craig Zobel’s new film “The Hunt” is a mildly amusing horror comedy about a bunch of liberal elites hunting deplorable conservatives. While it looks promising as rapidly throwing a series of nice surprises during its first act, it comes to lose some of its sharp sense of black humor as trying to balance itself between, uh, both sides during its middle act, and then, to my disappointment, it eventually fizzles as trudging toward its predictable finale.

After the prologue part which succinctly establishes its story premise, the movie promptly puts us into a very perilous circumstance surrounding a bunch of characters. While gagged in their mouth, they are all befuddled to find themselves in the middle of some remote forest area, and then they notice a big wooden box, which turns out to contain a number of various sharp objects and firearms besides a certain little animal.

Of course, it does not take much time for them to realize that they become human targets to be hunted, and some of them are quickly eliminated one by one. There is a brief but gruesome moment which shows one character getting impaled on the ground, and you will wince more when that character soon comes to experience something far worse than that.

In the end, a very few figures including a young woman played by Betty Gilpin manage to survive the first round of hunting, and they try to figure out what is really going on around them. At first, they seem to be somewhere in Arkansas, but, not so surprisingly, that turns out to be not true at all, as shown from a key sequence unfolded within a gas station supposedly belonging to an old couple played Amy Madigan and Reed Birney.

As already shown to us at the beginning, everything is planned by a group of liberal elites who are led by a woman named Athena Stone (Hillary Swank). For a reason to be revealed later in the story, they are very angry and bitter about those deplorable conservatives in the ongoing Trump era, and their targets were chosen mainly for virulent online activities including spreading toxic fake news and conspiracy theories on the Internet.

During its first act, the screenplay by Damon Lindelof, who also produced the film along with Jason Blum, and his co-writer Nick Cuse, has lots of vicious fun as keeping shifting its focus from one character to another. Most of those hunted characters in the story are not very sympathetic to say the least, but the movie keeps holding our attention as deftly delivering a number of unexpected plot turns, and we come to accept it as a twisted comic variation of Richard Connell’s famous short story “The Most Dangerous Game”.

After entering the middle act, the movie reveals more of Athena and her fellow elite liberals, who turn out to be as unlikable as their human targets. I will not go into details here on that, but I can tell you that the movie is willing to ridicule them as much as their hunting targets, and there are several small funny moments showing how clumsy they actually are in many aspects. At one point later in the story, one of them asks too many questions, and we are not so surprised by what happens next to that character in question.

While gleefully making fun of both sides, the movie gradually tries to hold itself via Gilpin’s character, who turns out to be more than a match for Athena and her fellow elite liberals mainly due to her particular set of skills. Quite more resourceful and watchful than expected, she ruthlessly advances with some lethal counterattacks, and we also get a darkly humorous scene where she tells the morbidly modified version of a certain famous fable.

We are supposed to root for Gilpin’s character, but she does not have much personality just like the other main characters in the film, who are more or less than cardboard figures to be dispatched along the plot. Although Gilpin, who recently received an Emmy nomination for her supporting turn in Netflix Series “GLOW”, demonstrates here that she is a good actress with strong screen presence, Cuse and Lidelof’s screenplay does not provide enough human depth to her character, and it also does not delve that much into the potentially interesting social/political aspects of a certain serious situation of hers in the middle of the film.

Most of other cast members in the film are limited by their one-dimension roles, but Swank, who has been criminally under-utilized for more than a decade despite receiving two Best Actress Oscars for “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), has a few juicy scenes including the one where Athena finally has a face-to-face moment with Gilpin’s character (Is that a spoiler?). Without any excuse or compromise, Swank goes all the way just like Gilpin, and they surely show considerable commitment during that scene.

On the whole, “The Hunt” feels rather lukewarm compared to all those troubles preceding its theatrical release in US early in this year. Its theatrical release was initially postponed in last year due to the 2019 El Paso shooting and some ridiculous political fuss about it, but then it faced the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at the time of its eventual theatrical release, and then it has merely been faded away since that. It is not entirely without fun and entertainment, but “Ready or Not” (2019) did a better job of making fun of contemporary class conflict in my trivial opinion, so I recommend you to watch that film instead, though I think they may make a nice double feature show together.

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