*. The idea that art can genuinely outrage people anymore is pretty much dead. Outrage itself has been co-opted and turned into marketing, a way of drawing eyeballs online or getting out the vote. This is a kind of bastard outrage or manufactured controversy, and I suppose it’s not surprising that it gained traction with The Hunt, which I found to be a rather innocuous bit of satire that was turned into a political football for reasons that I don’t think had a lot to do with its message. But Trump tweeted about it and that led to outrage and its release date got pushed back and then, by the time it came out (billing itself as “the most talked about movie of the year”), the world was going into lockdown and people had other things to worry about.
*. The basic concept is an old one, going back to The Most Dangerous Game and leading up to such modern instances as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. A bunch of wealthy elites kidnap a dozen “deplorables” and drop them into a natural setting, where they proceed to hunt them as animals. Those labels (“elites” and “deplorables”) indicate the nature of the political satire. It’s red states against blue in a game of last man (or woman) standing. But do we really know what side everyone is on?
*. Though more than just shading red, our hero Crystal (codename Snowball) is ultimately revealed as not being solidly one side or the other, which reinforces the idea of not relying on first impressions while making her an ideal surrogate for the audience. But what does the invocation of Animal Farm mean? Is it all just a set-up for the punchline that Crystal has actually read it? I don’t see the connection. It’s suggested on the “making of” featurette that the end was supposed to show that Crystal was like one of the new class of pigs, dressing up and enjoying champagne and caviar on her private jet. But she’s clearly not an inheritor, like Beth at the end of Hostel: Part II (the Hostel movies being an obvious source here, especially with the Eastern European setting). And yet despite the lack of any connection, at least that I can see, Orwell keeps coming up throughout the film. Even the point of the pig in the box had me scratching my head.
*. Much of the satire was more obvious. And indeed one of the critiques leveled at The Hunt was that it was overly broad. To which I would like to respond “Compared to what?” I thought it worked well, mocking the different blue and red styles of speech to the point where they really do seem to be talking different languages. And I like how the confrontation at the end is presented as a showdown between two different truths, with the idea that the truth of the Manor had been constructed out of a false belief in it. “You wanted it to be true, so you decided it was.” That’s not a new thought, but it’s an important one in context, stretching from Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer to the followers of QAnon.
*. All of which is to say that I really enjoyed The Hunt. Betty Gilpin, who I’d seen in The Grudge but who hadn’t registered with me there, is terrific as Crystal. The script hits a nice balance between action and comedy, and the action proceeds by way of various misdirections at a sprightly pace. I thought the whole introductory act, where characters who we grab on to like flotsam keep going under the blood-red tide, was great. And even though I knew where things were heading there were a lot of change-ups along the way that kept me guessing.
*. To use the word “progressive” with regard to a movie like this seems out of place, but bear with me. Action movies have tried more and more to present women as “just as tough as men,” to the point where every actress now has to have a repertoire of MMA moves they can unleash at a moment’s notice. This is seen in most circles as being progress, and in one sense it is. On the other hand, watching two women beat each other into bloody pulps, however much it fits with the story, seems off to me. I’m sure there’s a place for catfights, but I kept thinking “Have you come a long way just to get to this, baby?”
*. The fight is a good one though, mixing action well with humour. They also threw in some nice touches like the skin on Crystal’s forearm getting pinched in the break of the shotgun. That’s the kind of wit The Hunt has a lot of, and it’s why I liked it. I don’t think it’s a classic, and its politics are no more controversial than the monologue on any late-night talk show from the same time, but it’s a solid entertainment that does a good job addressing the current American dilemma.