The Hunt cleverly walks the line between intense action and political satire.
With a tumultuous release and a trailer giving off serious Battle Royale rip-off vibes, it is surprising that Craig Zobel’s The Hunt is as satirically enjoyable as it is.
Zobel is perhaps known for the disturbing thriller Compliance. Here, he expertly straddles the line between comedy and cut-throat action in a deadly political satire. The film caused a polarising reaction even before its release, prompting a subtweet from Donald Trump that read ‘Liberal Hollywood is Racist’, and was subsequently pushed back by five months after a series of mass shootings. The fears provoked by demonising political stances mirror the social concerns that arrived with the release of Joker late last year, raising the question as to whether we can even poke fun at politics in the current climate. Hilariously, the discourse The Hunt started perfectly feeds into its message.
The film portrays a group of people, kidnapped and placed together in an unknown location, who are then hunted by their abductors for sport. The first act is enthralling to say the least, with an intimate camera and unpredictable deaths establishing the stakes. It pokes fun at its forebears, setting up a Hunger Games-type romance just to instantly shut it down. Throwing the audience into a chaotic environment of extreme gore foregrounds the hyper-reality of the scenario, making the forthcoming political jibes sit comfortably within an ironic narrative – despite some of these jokes being a tad on the nose. As surreal as it is to see murderers discussing PC culture, co-writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (of The Leftovers and Watchmen fame) pull no punches in portraying the hypocritical nature of contemporary politics.
Though its critics would suggest otherwise, The Hunt shrewdly avoids taking sides, instead pointing out that political extremism can go both ways while making fun of the absurdity of taking messages at face value. The importance of a politically charged text message to the plot brings to mind the power of cancel culture and the danger of a single comment fuelling the fire of scandal. There are other enjoyable elements in The Hunt beside the political. The frequent action is consistently entertaining, and there never seems to a moment to catch your breath – making for a suspenseful watch. Protagonist Crystal (Betty Gilpin) does not receive much character development (nor do any of the characters for that matter), but Gilpin’s performance more than makes up for it. With fantastic dry humour and a calculating intelligence, Crystal’s ability to think three steps ahead of everyone else really makes you root for her.
While some of the jokes land better than others, The Hunt is certainly worth the watch for those who don’t take themselves – or politics – too seriously. Its grisly, darkly comedic violence is combined with a sincere message that avoids straying into a lecture, and manages to find humour in the depressing circus of the political world.
The Hunt, directed by Craig Zobel, is distributed in the UK by Universal, certificate 15. It is available to rent via Amazon, iTunes and other VOD platforms.