The hunt for the real meaning of The Hunt started, as so many things do in these fraught times, with outrage.
This bloody horror flick, originally scheduled for release Sept. 27, falls into that queasy humans-hunting-humans genre. Specifically, it’s about rich people hunting poor people for sport.
On Aug. 8, on Fox & Friends, the film was denounced as another example of the coastal elites’ contempt for real Americans. On Aug. 9, Fox & Friends’ favourite viewer, Donald Trump, tweeted about "Liberal Hollywood."
"They like to call themselves "Elite," but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos."
These comments came on top of a week of terrible mass shootings in the United States, and by Aug. 10, the studio issued a cautiously crafted statement: "We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film."
There’s no way of knowing if The Hunt — whose admittedly inflammatory initial title was Red State vs. Blue State — is a piece of exploitational trash, a smart satirical analysis of America’s fractured state, or a bit of both. Some people might argue there’s never a "right time" to release a movie about hunting people for fun.
Still, in the middle of all this roiled up conflict and confusion, there are a few things to sort out.
First off, the controversy came in response to a 162-second trailer, and a trailer doesn’t give us enough info to conclusively gauge what the filmmakers are up to. (We might find out at some point. Movies and TV episodes cancelled because of controversy or proximity to horrific current events often get a delayed, downplayed release.)
So, what do we know? The hunted include Emma Roberts and Ike Barinholtz, and the hunters include some soulless corporate types and Hilary Swank.
Yes, there is a scene where some poor proletarian sap is murdered with the spiked heel of Swank’s Yves Saint Laurent shoe. But there’s also a squishy sequence in which a rich guy’s head is crushed under the wheel of a German luxury car.
We also know that the filmmakers include Damon Lindelhof, one of the guys behind the twisty TV series Lost. Beyond the obvious us-vs.-them setup, there are almost certainly some more sneaky and surprising levels. This is reinforced by a conspiratorial hint in the trailer that the characters "have no idea what they’re up against," as well as glimpses of what seem to be military forces and refugees.
The movie also has a satirical angle, an aspect stressed in the studio’s statement and seemingly ignored by Fox. That doesn’t mean The Hunt’s satire would necessarily work — ultra-violent satire is notoriously hard to pull off — but the intention is there.
Fox News’s take on the movie seems to be that sinister global elites are shown hunting down MAGA-hat regular folks to a presumably cheering audience. But that seems off. I mean, who watches a humans-hunting-humans flick and assumes the hunters are meant to be the good guys?
Trump might reflexively believe the people who own private jets and drink champagne and eat caviar, as Swank does, are meant to be the "winners" in this scenario. It seems more likely, though, that the filmmakers are on the side of the underdogs who have been trussed up and dropped into a hunting range.
Trump’s Aug. 9 tweet storm about “Hollywood Elites,” for example, might have held more moral authority if he hadn’t been heading the next day to a $100,000-250,000-a-plate fundraiser in the Hamptons with a lot of 1 percenters.
That’s the way these movies go: the hunters are the villains and the hunted are the scrappy, sympathetic, resourceful folks the viewers are meant to identify with. There’s always a cathartic narrative turn where the hunted become the hunters (and vice versa).
That was the case with the wacky 1932 movie The Most Dangerous Game, in which the sadistic hunter is a bored, decadent, sexually stunted Russian aristocrat and his prey are open-hearted and upright Americans. It’s true in The Hunger Games series.
In The Hunt, the hero seems to be a Mississippi gal who rallies her fellow "deplorables" and fights back. Heads up, Fox News! Rather than being a victim of the "unhinged mob on the left," she’s more like an NRA fantasy — a beautiful woman who knows her way around a big gun.
The Fox response also relies on some deliberate obfuscation about what constitutes "the elite."
The left might be associated with coastal cultural elites, but the right shouldn’t be allowed to disavow its ties to political and economic elites. Trump’s Aug. 9 tweet storm about "Hollywood Elites," for example, might have held more moral authority if he hadn’t been heading the next day to a $100,000-250,000-a-plate fundraiser in the Hamptons with a lot of 1 percenters.
Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves "Elite," but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2019
And the film’s onscreen elites don’t come off as particularly left-leaning. Swank’s sinister operator sounds a lot more like someone who has The Ayn Rand Reader on her bedside table than a latte liberal. "We pay for everything, so this country belongs to us," she purrs at one point.
The trailer can’t tell us who wins the battle for America. The Hunt won’t be released in September. The culture wars, however, will continue.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.