September 23, 2020

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Ready, meme, fire

Controversial film about hunting 'deplorables' more broad-strokes political cartoon than pointed satire

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/3/2020 (193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For a movie that has generated more than its share of rancour and controversy, it is surprising to report that director Craig Zobel’s hot-button thriller The Hunt is, primarily, a goof.

The premise is as old as The Most Dangerous Game, a 1924 short story about a big-game hunter who finds himself the prey of a crazed Russian count who hunts humans. That story spawned multiple movies, including the 1994 Ice-T movie Surviving the Game. This thing is definitely cut from that mould.

In this film, penned by Damon Lindelof (creator of TV’s Watchmen) and Nick Cuse (writer of The Leftovers), the premise butts up against the current state of political division in the United States. We find ourselves aboard a luxury jet where some wealthy jerks are taken aback by a drugged proletarian-type who has wandered into their cabin like an economy-class drunk staggering through the first-class curtain.

The brief crisis is met by an in-charge woman named Athena (Hilary Swank) who disposes of the interloper with all the emotional gravitas that might attend the slapping of a mosquito.

Patti Perret / Universal Pictures</p><p>From left: Kate Nowlin, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan and Reed Birney in The Hunt.</p>

Patti Perret / Universal Pictures

From left: Kate Nowlin, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan and Reed Birney in The Hunt.

Cut to a remote green pasture, where 11 more people of the blue-collar persuasion awaken and find their way to a huge wooden crate filled with weapons. A loudmouth conspiracy theorist named Gary (Ethan Suplee) recognizes the scenario as a hunt, created by "globalist elites" who take pleasure in tracking and killing "deplorables."

Sure enough, a number of the designated victims are promptly picked off by unseen assailants, who are themselves packing automatic weapons, explosives, and bows and arrows.

It is probably telling that the initial reaction to this premise, prior to its aborted release last year, was outrage. U.S. President Donald Trump and some of his followers made the silly assumption that the movie was some kind of celebration of killing Trump supporters, as though the hunters were somehow the good guys.

In no known cinematic universe are wealthy hunters ever the good guys.

In any case, the hunt proceeds with the gore quotient matching or exceeding one of those Friday the 13th properties. (The movie released on Friday the 13th. Coincidence?)

Patti Perret/Universal Pictures</p><p>Hilary Swank as Athena: Red satin pyjamas are the uniform of the liberal elite.</p>

Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

Hilary Swank as Athena: Red satin pyjamas are the uniform of the liberal elite.

One can’t help but admire the gleeful way Zobel toys with our expectations when it comes to presenting us with possible protagonists, only to swipe left, as the kids say, on a moment’s notice. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know one particularly important would-be heroine is Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a mysterious woman whose past experience makes her a little less likely to fall into the traps being set by those "elitists."

The fear that the film will be some kind of Trumpkin paranoid fantasy is to some extent borne out with the portrayal of hateful liberals given to admonishing each other over lapses of racial/gender consciousness one moment, and sadistically killing "rednecks" the next. It’s a bizarre spectacle, especially coming from liberal Hollywood.

Mind you, a case could be made, lest anyone think there’s no such thing as a liberal predator. Two words: Harvey Weinstein.

Still, a movie populated almost entirely by meme-deep caricatures of both political stripes is alienating after a while. It’s difficult to get onside with anyone when everyone is, basically, a political cartoon.

Fortunately, there is Gilpin. The actress, seen in the Netflix series GLOW and two made-in-Manitoba films (A Dog’s Journey and The Grudge), makes for a formidable, tough heroine, but is also, in a key scene, hilarious as she shares her intention for a final reckoning with Swank’s mad lib.

This one scene, and not the showdown itself, elevates the whole movie from a grisly satire to — just for a moment — something sublime.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

photos by Patti Perret / Universal Pictures</p><p>Go ahead, make her day: Betty Gilpin in The Hunt.</p>

photos by Patti Perret / Universal Pictures

Go ahead, make her day: Betty Gilpin in The Hunt.

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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