MOVIE REVIEW: Betty Gilpin as an unstoppable bad-ass in “THE HUNT”

Politics in the horror genre is a tricky thing. If done incorrectly, a film’s political slant can hurt its narrative. When done right, a political take can enhance a film’s potency. The late George A. Romero and horror film legend John Carpenter are the two filmmakers who expertly infused their political messages within their works.

Romero, with his series of “…of the Dead” films, made each one a reflection and commentary of their times, with “Night of the Living Dead” speaking to the racism and division of the late sixties and “Dawn of the Dead” existing as a darkly comedic skewering of the mass consumerism of the late 1970s.

John Carpenter, a filmmaker who has long pushed back against “The Man,” injected a sharp commentary regarding his thoughts on the country in every one of his films, most potently being his vicious rebuke of the Reaganism in his 1988 genre classic “They Live.”

Now comes “The Hunt,” a Blumehouse-produced horror/thriller that has had a rough go of it so far. This is a film that has fallen prey to the very hateful and angry political climate that its screenplay takes on.

“The Hunt” was originally set to be released in september of 2019. However, due to pressure from many right-wing groups (including Donald Trump who said the film would “inflame and cause chaos in the streets”), Universal canceled the release. They reasoned that it came too close on the heels of the Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas mass shootings from early August 2019. Sources later revealed that the actual reason was that Universal caved to the pressure from the Republican hoopla.

One can rightly assume that the right felt the film made them look bad. The irony here? “The Hunt” is apolitical! It confronts the ridiculousness that occurs on both sides of the political spectrum, taking jabs at both progressives and conservatives. Indeed, Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s fun and clever screenplay takes aim at the preposterous lengths people will go to demonstrate their beliefs in a polarized America.

A secret coterie of well-off liberals drug and kidnap so-called deplorables and release them in a field to be hunted and picked off, one by one. The victims are given various weapons to defend themselves (guns, knives, grenades) and are left to wonder and wander as the bullets and arrows and land mines begin to rain down on them. FX artists Jason Collins and Michael McCarty of Autonomous F/X do fantastic work in their design of the carnage.

DID YOU KNOW? Heidi Moneymaker, who is Betty Gilpin’s stunt double in “The Hunt,” also doubled Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.

But this is no retread of “The Most Dangerous Game” nor is it an adult version of “Lord of the Flies.” The plot doesn’t stop there. The film continues beyond the field of death and weaves a bloody mystery of discovery and terror.

Respect for my readers and the film itself causes me to self-censor regarding plot details. Where this film goes is something that I would not divulge, as it holds a few surprises beyond how it has been sold to audiences. You may think you have this film’s arc figured out by seeing the trailers, but you would be wrong, even if the ending is a tad predictable.

Director Craig Zobel assembled a strong cast to bring this film to life and every character, big or small, has their own specific importance. Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Hilary Swank, and the great Amy Madigan all have persuasive roles and all deliver fine work.

Standing tall amongst the chaos is Betty Gilpin, an actress who is carving out a nice career for herself. Gilpin is the “Ash” or “Mad Max” of this piece. Her character is a normal woman going about an ordinary life who gets thrust into a situation where she must defend herself and survive through violence and her wits. Her survival chops are quite unexpected and lead to more than a few popcorn–chomping moments. It is a fierce and grounded performance, one that carries the audience through the mayhem.

This film is full of many setpieces that will keep genre fans happy, and, at a crisp 90 minutes, Zobler keeps things moving at flamethrower pace.

It cannot be denied that “The Hunt” is a comment on our divided America and one that taps into the overreactions and fears and extreme behavior of people from states both red, and blue. Yet Zobel’s film, which he presents with a knowing wink, doesn’t forget to entertain.

The message is important. The film is fun.

Betty Gilpin

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