The Blumhouse produced horror film The Hunt was originally intended to come out on September 27th 2019 but this was derailed, ostensibly out of sensitivity to the mass shootings that occurred in Dayton and El Paso that occurred a month before the release but what’s really thought to have been behind it was the fact that some right-wing outlets heard vague descriptions of it, interpreted it as an assault on them, and saw it as an opportunity to create an “us against them” narrative about “Hollywood elites.” Trump himself even made vague comments about it at a rally. At the time I viewed this delay as something of an outrage. A cowardly attempt to stifle what looked at least from the trailers to be an attempt to combine social commentary with genre elements. Mind you I barely knew anything about the movie I was defending, and in many ways that was beside the point, I didn’t want the incident to have a chilling effect on future movies that would try to do things along those lines. Beyond that, the fact that this was now forbidden fruit made me a whole lot more interested in seeing it than I was before, partly out of the long long history of the best movies becoming “controversial” powder kegs that spark debates and outlast their critics in the long run. Also, frankly, there’s a certain kneejerk instinct to support anything that Donald Trump seems to hate. But now the film is back, this time with an advertising campaign that leans into the controversy by claiming to be the most talked about movie of the year (which it objectively is not), but despite feeling a lot less dangerous and interesting than it did in the fall, I still felt some compulsion to seek it out if only to make sense of that whole tempest in a teapot from a few months ago.
The film is a bit of a riff on the short story “The Most Dangerous Game” as it is about a cadre of wealthy elites who take it upon themselves to kidnap a bunch of people, transport them to some sort of secret compound in the Balkans, and then hunt them for sport. The film doesn’t beat around the bush about this reveal and pretty much lets you know what’s up from the beginning. The victims of this hunt are various low income people, mostly from the south, who have at some point or another expressed some sort of right wing sentiment. They are “deplorables” as one of the hunters describes them in a text chat that displays onscreen at the beginning. I don’t think the name “Donald Trump” is spoken in the film but you do get the impression that the two sides of this are basically two sides of the culture war at their most extreme.
It is perhaps curious that Donald Trump came out against this movie because if he had actually seen it he might have found that the movie kind of seems to in many ways push the worldview that Trump espouses. In it liberals are viewed not as people of diverse backgrounds looking to advance social causes but instead as virtue signaling millionaire fatcats who operate entirely out of hatred for red states while their victims are seen as misguided but ultimately sympathetic victims, and people of color don’t seem to factor into any of this much at all. Why the film’s producers, who as far as I can tell are not Trump supporting conservatives, wanted to advance this narrative with their movie is difficult to perceive. The most charitable reading I can perceive is that the movie is meant less to be a reflection of contemporary America than it’s meant to be a movie about stereotypes and the way we perceive one another, but I must say this interpretation requires a lot of bullshit false equivilencey that’s inherently unbalanced by the fact that liberal elites do not actually hunt people while there are actual real world examples of the kinds of “deplorability” that the hunted people represent. Outside of that I think there’s a sort of extreme version of the sort of self-criticism that made Get Out such a hit, but done much more clumsily. The upper class liberals in that movie at least sort of resembled people you might meet in real life, but the ones here seem to exist solely in Alex Jones’ imagination.
The film is not completely without wit. In my summery of the film’s plot I avoided giving character names or listing cast members, in part because it does a fairly clever thing at the beginning where it fools the audience into thinking a variety of people will be will be the film’s protagonist before finally settling on one. Some of the film’s kills are also reasonably well staged in a way that the gorehounds will appreciate and there are jokes here and there and there’s a fairly good performance from the lead that eventually emerges. But all of that is kind of wasted on a movie that seems to be peddling a profoundly unproductive message that will not please (or particularly challenge) anyone on any side of the political divide. It does nothing to probe more deeply into what makes the “deplorables” tick and its interest in the richest of limousine liberals seems particularly out of touch coming out of a hard fought primary in which decidedly non-elite Democrats were deciding the future of the party. Maybe twenty years from now this thing will appear to be an interesting document of the political divide in the Tump years the way we now look back at movies like Punishment Park seem to give insight into the culture wars of the past, but right now this is decidedly not the movie the country needs.
* out of Five