Craig Zobel’s “The Hunt” is a bonkers modern spin on Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” that sets its sights on America’s sharp political divide. The unsuspecting viewer undergoes immense inner torture and discomfort watching said schism devolve into an open killing spree targeting passionate Donald Trump supporters. The early massacre is as horrifying as anything witnessed in the “Saw” franchise, the violence and cruelty so overt and unabashedly grotesque that you can practically taste your own revulsion.
The satirical brilliance of Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s adapted screenplay is that it first pushes audiences to the brink of disgust and revilement, only to slap them to their senses with stark clarity. The revelation: everything witnessed is as moronic as the fringe extremists who make it their daily mission to fan the flames of division by spreading disinformation. To take the events depicted in this movie seriously is giving power to online attention-seekers who thrive on fostering chaos. Ultimately, “The Hunt” is about mitigating fear between ideological adversaries by unifying them through the power of parody. Like Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” demonstrated last year, sometimes the wisest truths come from the most idiotic sources.
The quicker you accept “The Hunt” as goofy entertainment instead of sobering social commentary, the more its stock rises. The thriller offers unrelenting forward momentum, throwing some clever twists amid the mayhem and gifting us with two outstanding performances from Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank. Gilpin plays Crystal, an impassive rental car receptionist who reawakens her military spirit when forced to reverse the scope on her captors. Gilpin’s measured expressiveness evokes traumatic madness and willpower grit, crafting one of the most memorable action star heroines in recent memory. In fact, “The Hunt” is the best bloody action extravaganza since “Kill Bill” to magnify a woman’s skill in combat against overwhelming numerical odds.
As for Hilary Swank, her excellence stems from exuding femme fatale mystery. As the leader of the underground far-left contingent tasked with kidnapping and hunting “deplorables” for sport, she’s more omnipresent than anything. The two-time Academy Award-winning actress is so compelling as Athena that she makes you wish more movie villains were as candid and articulately deranged in their convictions. If men can so easily find their way into an Oscar acting lineup for satirical work, there is no excuse why Gilpin and Swank can’t at least be part of the early awards conversation.
Courtesy of superb craftsmanship, “The Hunt” never pauses to breathe, much less allow viewers to second-guess their decision to watch such polarizing material. Jane Rizzo’s taut editing ensures eyeballs are glued from start to grand finale. Her adept story pacing sustains tension throughout, especially during lively skirmishes and foreboding monologues. Furthermore, granting audiences the full scope of the various fight sequences without rapid cuts emphasizes visceral immersion. Every punch, kick, knife wound or gunshot is felt with shuddering impact. What should be rudimentary confrontations, explosions, and close-quarters combat is staged with elaborate detail that wholly respects action cinema’s inherent creativity.
Satirical movies often lose their way by being so devout to their messaging that they forget viewers came for a show, not a lecture. Thankfully, “The Hunt” is well aware its primary objective is to entertain – everything else, despite what’s been reported, is secondary. The film’s controversial subject matter makes it free game for any type of interpretation, which regretfully overshadows the witticism of its dialogue and overall pulpy amusement. If just one thing can be derived from Lindelof’s latest ambitious undertaking, it’s that character empathy tears down all walls.