The Hunt and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Craig Zobel
Boy does this movie want us to think it has a chip on its shoulder! I haven’t seen negative review quotes used this liberally since Freddy Got Fingered, which… okay, that might actually be a good sign because I do like that movie purely on its utter absurdity (THIS IS A FANCY RESTAURANT!!), but is not the usual calling card of studio confident in a film on its own merits. Then again I can’t imagine Universal having any other bright ideas after the thing got pulled from theaters and certain segments of the media decided that THIS was the thing that’s going to destroy the fabric of our society. Personally, I think we already got that film with London Has Fallen, but whatever it is that hyped this movie up so much, is there any way that it can live up to those expectations? Let’s find out!!
A bunch of people wake up in the middle of a field with no idea where they are or how they go there. They start to slowly move towards the center of this big field with a giant crate right in the middle that contains a whole lot of weapons and a pig for some reasons; the implications of which they don’t have long to ponder because they are immediately beset by gunfire, booby traps, and all manner of lethal armaments! Some of them seem to carry themselves well enough (Betty Gilpin) while others are showing themselves to be MASSIVE jerks (Ike Barinholtz) who may or may not have it coming for various reasons; the least of which being that they’re in a horror movie and that’s usually the way things go. Eventually though, it’s revealed that their attackers are a bunch of liberal yuppie yahoos (including but not limited to Glenn Howerton and Hillary Swank) who seem to be taking their 2016 frustrations out on a bunch of red necks and scumbags through a game facilitated by their massive wealth. Is this all just one big excuse for that whole class warfare thing I’ve been hearing about to become literal, or is there more going on than what we’re initially led to believe? Is this like Saw where the main villain has justifiable reasons for taking these people prisoner, or is it like Saw 4 where things just get ridiculous and asinine for no good reason? Seriously, is it POSSIBLE for Ike Barinholtz to not be a scumbag in everything he plays? I’d give fifty-fifty odds on some rich fool actually BELIEVING this guy to be monster and throw him in one these death games for real!
I’ll be honest, I was expecting to really dislike this movie or at least get really annoyed by it in the vein of those terrible religious films I’ve avoided in recent years; something made less to tell a story but to grind an incredibly bitter and blunt axe. Color me surprised though that after all the nonsense surrounding this film, both from the reporting on it to the way the studio promoted it themselves, it’s actually good! It’s not a masterpiece and it’s political commentary is WAY too proud of itself considering how little it really has to say, but I had a pretty good time with this little gore fest! It doesn’t take itself seriously enough for any of its both sider-ism cracks to have any teeth which in hindsight is a GOOD thing for this, and it has some decent acting, directing, and splatter effects to make this a fun little distraction that overcomes its rather blunt and ho-hum commentary. Ready or Not is better, The Purge sequels are better, and even counting what’s in theaters right now (at least for the time being) you’re better off checking out The Invisible Man, but you can do a lot worse; something I’m sure they won’t be putting on those intentionally bad review quote posters.
We’ll start with what’s good about this movie and first and foremost, this is a comedy above all else which is made clear right off the bat. Not just black humor or edgy humor either; there’s some straight up horror slapstick in the opening scenes of this movie that honestly feels like the right move considering how hard the marketing is leaning into the controversy of it. A movie with bad ideas that is INCREDIBLY serious about them is far worse than a movie with bad ideas that’s at least light and silly about it, though whether the ideas in this film are truly bad or not is something we’ll get into soon enough. The first act is genuinely well made and there are some interesting ideas that we’ve certainly seen before but are executed quite well here. For instance, the protagonist of this movie isn’t clearly defined until about twenty minutes into the movie, so it’s unclear for a good chunk of it if you’re following anyone who has a chance of surviving or if they could die at any minute. I kind of wish the movie had done that throughout as the perspective shifts did keep things interesting, but the protagonist we do eventually settle on does a great job of carrying the rest of the movie. They are essentially the straight person to this world of over the top caricatures which give the whole thing an Escape From New York vibe only without the strong world building and with less interesting social commentary. Still, on a purely visceral and surface level reading, it gets the job done with some great gore effects, a few jokes that do land, and some interesting storytelling decisions revolving around a pretty solid cast of comedic actors and a strong central lead.
Where things start to sag is with the pacing of the narrative and you start to see the cracks forming after the first act where it gets overly complicated for no good reason. There’s an entire subplot involving the military of whatever country they’re in that seems to go nowhere as well as an overt yet completely meaningless backdrop of the refugee crisis just sitting there ready to be a part of this story and it just never happens. Instead we just get this overly convoluted plan that frankly doesn’t make the least bit of sense if the goal was for a bunch of rich people to torture and eventually kill these rednecks. I mean Jigsaw had this game down pat, and he wasn’t even a rich dude; you’re telling me these jerks couldn’t scrape together a few neck bombs as an insurance policy? It just doesn’t feel all that thought out which has the effect of making all of this feel utterly meaningless; like a family squabble where you don’t know any of the people involved. At least the gore and a few of the on- liners carry the movie into a decent finale, but the joke starts to wear thin a lot sooner than the filmmakers were expecting it to.
The third act manages to tie it all together in a way that’s a lot cleverer than I had expected. The social commentary its premise and the trailers have teased has been at the heart of the marketing, so where does this story about RICH LIBERALS KILLS POOR TRUMPERS ultimately land? Well I can’t get into it TOO much or else I’d be spoiling the genuinely surprising twist, but it manages to make the rich people less of the caricatures that they SEEM to be without removing a single iota of their despicableness; effectively making them true VILLAINS of the story instead of just pointlessly easy targets for someone to latch onto. Then again, I’m not entirely sure WHO the movie is trying to piss off with its characters, and the presence of Glenn Howerton is a bit apropos because at its best it’s a lower tier episode of Sunny; specifically Gun Fever 2: Still Hot which did a decent job of making fun of both sides of the debate in the extreme cases but ended on kind of a squib of a nothing ending; still landing on both sides are bad as the ACTUAL serious message. I mean I’m pretty far on the left wing snowflake spectrum and it just didn’t bother me too much when they were taking the piss out of the rich liberals and the working class racists; mostly because they all suck for various reasons (though I know which side I’d be on if I had to choose) and those aren’t the only two sides that exist in the world, so taking this as any sort of serious critique of modern day politics is pretty laughable even if it does get a shred of nuance towards the end. If there’s one thing that irked me even a TINY bit in here, it’s that someone brings up Ava DuVernay, and even just having that name come out of someone’s mouth in this movie felt a LITTLE bit crass. Congratulations, movie! You got me to give a half grimace for a quarter of a second in your politically incorrect satire! You can take that accomplishment all the way to reddit!
If you want a movie that has something genuine to say instead of just politically charged snark, the Purge Sequels (and even the prequel) are easy to find and outclass this movie by a country mile by how it focuses on power structures and the culpability of certain angry segments of the populace to enable the subjugation of themselves and others. Then again, I guess this movies scope isn’t THAT ambitious and for what it’s trying to do, it does it just fine; though you’d still be better off watching Ready or Not which is similarly small scaled but much funnier and with a tighter narrative. They’re putting this thing out on VOD in a week or so anyway and that’s probably the best place to watch it, but if you haven’t seen any of the numerous other movies that did this premise but better, you can probably get most of those for the price Universal is gonna charge for this one. CHOOSE WISELY is all I’m saying.