The Hunt (2020)
It seems that every once in a while there is a debate about whether art can provoke violence. As with all these conversations, there are fears and predictions that mass violence and shootings will occur at theaters (this particularly tailored to the US), only for nothing to happen and the film to fade into the annals of history. This was the argument since the 1970s with the gangster films, with Spike Lee’s films such as Do the Right Thing (1989), and up to the 1990s and early 2000s with American History X (1998), Fight Club (1999). and American Psycho (2000). And we only recently have been debating about it with the incredibly successful Joker (2019). Last year was also supposed to see another “provocative” film premiere, but with the renewed predictions of shootings to occur, the release date was pushed to the quieter March schedule.
This movie was The Hunt (2020). The plot involves a group of American conservatives being literally hunted by a group of American liberals (or social democrats for those Europeans reading). Far from being a film specifically crafted at provoking violence or strife in the present world, it is actually adapted from the 1924 Richard Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” where a wealthy man releases poor people and hunts them for sport in his compound.
The Hunt is helmed by two very daring and skilled figures: Jason Blum and his horror production company Blumhouse (The Purge (2013), Get Out (2017), The Invisible Man (2020)) and writer Damon Lindelof who has been a pioneer and revered creator on television with such thought-provoking pieces as Lost (2004-2010), The Leftovers (2014-2017), and most recently Watchmen (2019). It takes some daring to tackle such a delicate issue as is the class and political polarization that is occurring in the world. However, art is supposed to delve into such muddy issues and probe the viewer to think about and reflect on such difficult topics. If all films played it safe then the medium would long have died out; audiences are interested in bold filmmaking and stories. In a time of such polarization, it is necessary to have an introspection into how ridiculous our ideological divides have become. In that sense The Hunt has incredibly pure intentions at mocking both liberals and conservatives in equal measure. With this in mind the film isn’t so much exploiting a divide, as bringing humor to both sides in order to spark a sense of unity and realization.
The Hunt is similar to a little seen film from last year Ready or Not (2019), which also dealt with similar rich-hunting-poor concept. However, The Hunt is not as timid in shying away from its social commentary. There is a clear exploration of the use of violence in America and specifically the contradictory gun culture. However, unlike Ready or Not, The Hunt seems to try and have it both ways, of commenting on the excessive portrayals of violence on screen while also exploiting it for its own entertainment and profit. This causes many of the darkly humored violent scenes to come off as conceited. But the humor is impressively held in a difficult balance, especially considering such an inciting subject matter. However, director Craig Zobel and particularly writers Lindelof and Nick Cuse are able to pull off such a risky strategy, with the help of another key player.
The entire film, however, rests on the shoulders of Betty Gilpin. Gilpin has already been wowing viewers on the TV side with GLOW (2017-), but The Hunt marks her leading-lady big screen role. Gilpin is able to delve into the difficult tone of the film and absolutely transcend and dominate the delicate tongue-in-cheek rhythm. She is so capable at captivating the entire audience that it is sure to make movie-goers perk up their ears the next time they see her name on a poster.
In the end, The Hunt proves to be a very daring, but necessary look at the polarizing political and socio-economic circumstances in the world. The film is largely successful thanks to a very achieved balance of dark humor from the filmmakers and Gilpin. The Hunt might be a bit misguided and exploitative when dealing with violence, but it never seems too out of place with the risktakers that were behind the camera. This film should not be seen as a subtle look at inequality and political divisions, as an arthouse flick might; rather it is bluntly meant to shake and slap viewers with its conclusions. It is these bold attempts at dealing with the world’s contemporary problems that need to be populating our screens, not the superhero escapism that we frequently flock to. As the lyrics of “Strawberry Fields” begin: “Living is easy with eyes closed…”