Review: The Hunt’s Empty Provocations Are a Show of Bland Bothsidesism

The film was almost canceled for being too partisan, so it’s ironic to discover that it’s practically apolitical.

The Hunt
Photo: Universal Pictures

Craig Zobel’s The Hunt is tailored to trigger audiences on both the left and right. It’s a Trump-era spin on The Most Dangerous Game, with the antagonists of Richard Connell’s 1924 short story—and RKO’s 1932 film adaptation—no longer predators who resort to hunting humans out of boredom, but liberal-coded elites targeting their natural political enemies: internet trolls from places like Staten Island and Orlando who peddle conspiracy theories, revere the Second Amendment, and deny climate change.

Despite the prerelease criticism of the film, sight unseen, from Trump and his right-wing echo chamber, The Hunt doesn’t glorify blue staters gunning down their red counterparts. Rather, it gently pokes fun at progressives and conservatives alike—“Go to hell,” says one reactionary, to which a liberal responds, “I don’t believe in hell”—while promoting the anodyne idea that we should talk nicer to each other because there really are very fine people on both sides.

The film, written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, kicks off with about a dozen people waking up gagged in the woods. A nearby field quickly becomes a battleground, booby-trapped with landmines and pits lined with iron spikes, as bullets whiz and arrows fly by. Every time you think The Hunt has settled on a main character, that person is killed and the film moves onto another; the great twist of Psycho is repeated about five times, in a single reel.


Thus the quarries are fast reduced until we land on Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a smoker and Afghanistan veteran from the Deep South who gives as good as the others got. She proves a shrewd fighter with a chess player’s mind, anticipating problems and their solutions. Like Bombshell, The Hunt has you root for a smart, strong, blond, ostensibly conservative woman, regardless of your politics, because the peril she faces is objectively wrong.

The film is propulsive as it shifts from combat zone to convenience store to freight train to refugee camp to rural highway and so on, picking up new characters and dispatching them along the way. Mike (Usman Ally), for example, is introduced in one scene and exploded by a hand grenade shoved into the crotch of his jeans in the next. And such gory violence is leavened with humorous, charged asides, as when a pair of lefties (Reed Birney and Amy Madigan) discuss whether it’s okay to say “black” instead of “African–American,” and whether NPR is too white to arbitrate. The otherwise almost back-to-back fight scenes are refreshingly coherent, which isn’t always a given in this genre. The choreography and editing are tightly managed, and The Hunt is, at least, very efficiently directed at the visual level.

The script, though, takes a lot of potshots when it’s not loftily drawing parallels between itself and Animal Farm. The conservatives think their attackers are all vegans; the liberals think their targets all use the N-word (and not even just in private, but on Twitter!). In the last act, after a pair of plot twists, the film finally tries to make a serious point, arguing that Americans shouldn’t assume the worst of their perceived political opponents, even though the jokes of the last hour have traded on such blatant caricatures, because this now-pervasive style of discourse just leads inevitably to mutually assured destruction.


But that’s a simplistic diagnosis of our cultural condition, and “be nicer” is an unpersuasive prescription. The Hunt promotes a bland bothsidesism that’s useless in our Trumpian present but very safe for a corporate product intended to pacify rather than radicalize. The film was almost canceled for being too partisan, so it’s ironic to discover that it’s practically apolitical.

 Cast: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ethan Suplee, Wayne Duvall, Reed Birney, Amy Madigan, Usman Ally, Glenn Howerton, Emma Roberts, Sturgill Simpson  Director: Craig Zobel  Screenwriter: Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof  Distributor: Universal Pictures  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: R  Year: 2020  Buy: Video

Henry Stewart

Henry Stewart is a journalist and historian. He's the deputy editor at Opera News magazine and the author of the books How Bay Ridge Became Bay Ridge, True Crime Bay Ridge, and More True Crime Bay Ridge.

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