The Hunt

The Hunt ★★★★

Like the last "major" release I saw in theaters ("Onward"), seems like I'm in a micro-minority for enjoying this so much. Maybe I'm watching too many bad movies at home on streaming services lately, so by comparison, my token adventures at the multiplex have started to resemble opulent 5-course meals. Or maybe "The Hunt" is actually a really good film.

A future cult classic even regardless of the delayed release notoriety that its marketing campaign tried to capitalize on, it's even more bluntly political a horror comedy than last year's trifecta of nasty, subtextual kill-the-rich crowd pleasers "Ready or Not", "Knives Out", and "Parasite", with a much wider range of targets too. Perhaps an unspoken reason why people are reacting negatively to the movie is its lambasting of both the left and the right; usually the latter is the go-to villain in movies (cough*rightly so*cough), especially during this dark age of Trump's reign, but writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (for once delivering a succinct and coherent work of entertainment) are equal-opportunity offenders, showing how ridiculous, small-minded, arrogant and annoying liberals can be too. With bipartisan politics having long since turned our government into a hateful, childish tug of war, I'm relieved to see a movie that dares not take sides in that petty game, that recognizes the relatable humanity in each individual person instead of reducing everyone to one-dimensional good or evil cartoons (not that it spends much time making that point since it plays hard and fast and often relies on caricature for its satire, but the idea is in there that we shouldn't judge people based on their political affiliations, no matter how hard it may be to see beyond that wall).

And making the liberals more the bad guys here isn't a condemnation of them, but a creative challenge it seems and a necessary subversion - all those aforementioned 2019 movies took the arguably easy route by depicting their antagonists as holier-than-thou right-wing douchebags, so it's a healthy move on behalf of this picture to offer a different point of view, and expose our own biases. What if we got the upper hand this time, it asks? Maybe we'd come across as self-righteous assholes too. Maybe we should all stop stereotyping each other and just shut the fuck up and learn to co-exist peacefully with our different beliefs under a system of law that we all agree on. Wasn't that the goal way back when? But we know there's no chance that such a rational harmony will ever happen again, hence the need for all-inclusive "fuck you"s like this movie.

What makes "The Hunt" doubly worth celebrating though is its hilarious ferocity as a thriller. Anyone who's been watching movies long enough must get tired of how almost all of them pull their punches one way or another: stalling for effect, wimping out on bold/difficult story choices, conforming to lazy movie-code artifices. So when the rare one comes along that doesn't give a fuck about romanticizing and protecting every single character, about telegraphing every turn it's going to make, about adhering to familiar patterns of film language, it's like running through fields of ecstasy. The movie throws in a whole lot of familiar faces - character actors, TV stars, hey-it's-that-guys - and mows them down so unceremoniously (with tongue in cheek brutality, in fact) that I can't remember the last time I felt so on edge from almost the very beginning of a movie, enthralled by its sense of danger that you have almost no idea which character is going to matter and what sudden shocking surprise are we seconds away from at any given moment. It's exciting in the way hundreds of other movies purport themselves to be, but virtually none are. (as a horror fan too, the merry indulgence of gore was much appreciated)

As if all that weren't enough, it's also got a badass survivor heroine for the ages in Betty Gilpin, who's smart, sexy, sardonic, a little weird, walks around with a pissed-off Snake Plissken attitude, and never hesitates to pull the trigger when facing an enemy, which in movie terms is, again, a blessed release from the contrived suspense tactics of so many other action / horror wannabes. Even the way she refuses to wait that traditional beat after someone addresses her before responding is a sign of her cool. The screenplay supplied an impressive protagonist; Gilpin takes it one further and makes it all her own. Great character and great performance.

And finally on this list of outstanding achievements, the movie is 90 minutes long. So much to savor and unpack within such a pithy space. Hallelujah.

In conclusion: this is actually a lot like "Ready or Not" specifically, but more satisfying. Even the end credits are fun, with a few callbacks to character quirks in the Cast list.

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