"The Hunt" (R) (Universal Pictures)
Score: 4.0 stars (****) out of 4 stars
The 14th feature based on the 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, "The Hunt" was originally scheduled to be released on Sept. 17, 2019, but — according to a press release issued by Universal — was canceled in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Florida in the late summer.
Some have concluded the cancellation was due to negative comments on Twitter from President Donald Trump which never identified the film by name. Recalling statements made by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel ("never let a good crisis go to waste:), there was little doubt "The Game" would eventually come out.
The question wasn’t if but when and when has finally arrived.
The first major live-action studio release to directly comment on the result of the 2016 presidential election, "The Hunt" — by its mere existence — will further distance the already wide chasm not between Republicans and Democrats but rather conservatives and liberals (and yes, there is a difference).
In "The Hunt," these camps are identified as "elites" and "deplorables" — divisive terms not even the most seasoned spin doctors could possibly twist into anything resembling positive or neutral.
If you have any interest in the 2020 presidential election (and, sad to say, there are more who don’t care than do), you have to see this movie.
While it often paints with broad strokes, it also pays close attention to the stuff taking place in the margins; things not normally present in action thrillers, horror blood-baths or even high-brow, politically-charged art films.
The big problem in reviewing a movie like this is if you reveal anything taking place after the first 10 minutes it will spoil the entire affair.
The same cannot be said for letting everyone know the premise going in.
Before the opening credits are complete, we see that Athena (Hilary Swank) is participating in a group text where several people are looking forward to a visit to "The Manor" where deplorables will be hunted.
A joking and half-hearted suggestion of deleting the text exchange follows.
In the next scene, a half-dozen or so people are flying in an ultra-plush private plane where caviar and $250,000 a bottle champagne are being served. Someone who was supposed to be drugged interrupts the party and Athena, none too pleased with being rudely woken, leaves her secluded lair and drives the spiked heel of one of her pumps into the eye socket of the disruptive hostage.
The bearded, plus-size, denim-clad corpse is then tossed into a room of still-asleep passengers who will soon wake up in a field with others like them and will start dropping like flies under the most violent of methods.
The biggest and most obvious question isn’t what happens next but rather why would any studio executive in their right mind green-light a movie such as this in the first place?
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that the movie industry more than tilts to the political left and doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of those who don’t follow with them in lock-step. Rather than preserve the mystery, someone thought it would be a great idea to portray liberals as crazed, blood-thirsty hunters of middle-American, red-state kidnap victims for sport.
Before you contemplate that premise, take it one step further and consider if the tables were turned. What would the reaction be if a group of multi-cultural liberal individuals were snatched up against their will and hunted as if they were game by conservatives?
A totally off-the-rails, wing-nut premise doesn’t mean there’s not a good, if not great movie possible and to their credit, director Craig Sobel ("Compliance," "Z for Zachariah") along with writers Nick Cuse ("The Leftovers," "Watchman") and Damien Lindel ("Prometheus," "World War Z") defy several genre horror/thriller conventions.
Again, to get into the specifics would stray into spoiler territory but — with just one notable exception in the third act — every scene delivers an unpredictable, narrative-changing twist. There are also three strategically-placed flashback scenes which fill in what might initially appear to be big holes in the plot.
Like everything else about the movie, the messaging isn’t subtle; there are no grey areas.
The personalities and motives of all but three characters are vividly apparent and a post on the movie’s Facebook page ("choose your side") further makes it clear the studio and the filmmakers’ mission was to add further ideological distance between the political parties. On that level, it succeeded and then some.
Some might not appreciate the lack of nuance and finesse and will recoil at the blunt-force, in-your-face method of storytelling but many more will find it surprisingly refreshing.
Many people on both sides of the political aisle will either love or hate the movie; very few will watch it and walk away feeling indifferent. It will get under everyone’s skin, make some cheer and others weep. For better or for worse it will grab you by the throat and won’t let you go.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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