President Donald Trump called it racist; major TV networks stopped showing it; the filmmakers received death threats; and just eleven days later, Universal Studios cancelled it.
That was seven months ago. Now, The Hunt is back, hitting theatres across the globe. So why did this low-budget satirical thriller generate so much vitriol and attention? The answer is, well, complicated.
The Hunt follows a group of lower-class right-wing “deplorables” who awaken, gagged and confused, in a forest. There’s nothing around but a meadow, a pig, and a large crate filled with guns. Soon, violence erupts, and the group must fight and flee from liberal elites out for a little fun, the toys being sniper rifles, grenades, and land mines. Even a high heel makes a deadly appearance.
The film updates “The Most Dangerous Game” under Trumpian hysteria, pitting tree-hugging liberals against conspiracy-loving conservatives. It’s like The Hunger Games, but funnier and grislier.
Part of The Hunt’s initial downfall came from its cryptic marketing. The original trailer masked its bipartisan satire as exploitation horror and, to some conservatives like Trump, propaganda meant to incite violence against them. Ironically, Trump and alt-right extremists, who label liberals as easily offended snowflakes, perpetuated the very thing they criticize. Herein lies the film’s thesis.
A cursory google search would reveal its tongue-in-cheekiness, but then again, the President doesn’t always employ careful consideration. So, while the marketing was shady, Trump’s trigger-happy Twitter fingers didn’t help.
But the real reason Universal pulled the plug has less to do with The Hunt’s trailer or Trump, and more about the sociopolitical climate outside the film.
In August 2019, days after the trailer released, a gunman open-fired in an El Paso Walmart, injuring 24 and killing 22. Just thirteen hours later, a man ravaged a local Dayton bar, killing 9 and injuring 27 others. Obviously neither El Paso nor Dayton were inspired by The Hunt. But families were grieving. Communities were heartbroken. And despite being satire, the filmfeatures ample gun violence, and so Universal correctly cancelled it out of sensitivity for those affected.
But seven months have passed, and Universal has reset its poor marketing. The Hunt’snew trailer depicts what it truly is: a meta-genre mashup that undercuts violence as needless and idiotic. Buried beneath its humour, the heart of The Hunt isn’t about violence, but its cousin, fanaticism.
Fanatic subcultures—whether the far-left Antifa, the alt-right conspiracy theorists, or even the Beyhive—are rising and dominating the modern world. To director Craig Zobel, all fanaticism is destructive, a cesspool of confirmation bias, groupthink, and the dismissal of others.
The Hunt tackles very real issues. Whether it’s scary or stale, funny or flat, is up for debate.
Early critics and fans paint pretty mixed reviews. Some find the satire preachy, on the nose, and annoying. Others believe it’s too tame. And in goldilocks fashion, some feel the satire is just right: concise and powerful. It’s no surprise the film straddles a 51 score on Metacritic, a 5.7 on IMDb, and a 54 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Whether the satire works, most agree The Hunt is quality nerve-twisting action. It features chest-thumping chases, wincing deaths, and at its centre, a badass performance by Betty Gilpin as our apolitical protagonist hero Crystal. She’s brazen-faced and stoic in her Southern drawl, like being hunted by liberals and patching wounds with a blowtorch isn’t her worst Tuesday night.
Crystal fights opposite the mischievous Athena. Played by two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, Athena leads the liberal hunters and drives the film’s zigzagging narrative.
Like a Picasso painting, everyone sees The Hunt differently. It’s audacious and packed with more twists than a 1960’s dance club. Some twists are so shocking they’d make M. Night Shyamalan shed a tear.
The Hunt is also the quintessential Blumhouse film, mixing scares with sardonicism, meta humour with absurdist conflicts, a meagre budget with a single A-list actor. It’s an acerbic satire of Twitter-era politics—hilarious, horrifying and, no matter how bipartisan, sure to ruffle a few feathers.