The Hunt review: this horror movie might be 2020’s most controversial film, but is it really worth the hype?

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Stylist’s Ally Sinyard gives her spoiler-free thoughts on Blumhouse Productions’ The Hunt

Before we get going, it’s important for me to mention that it takes a lot for a film to move me. I laugh on the inside, levelling up to the very occasional, out-loud “ha, that’s funny.” Horrors don’t scare me, thrillers rarely thrill me and the last film I cried at was Brittany Runs A Marathon (if by “crying” you mean a solitary, falling tear.)

So, I enjoy films the way people enjoy good food: “Yum yum yum, this is delicious cinema” or “this tastes like nothing.” I can’t know until I’ve tasted it, and that is why I’m also often a casualty of an overly-hyped film. When I hear words like “controversial” and poster taglines that read “the most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen,” I want to unpack it. Who is talking about it, and why? And how are they talking about a film they haven’t even seen?

With that in mind, let’s talk about The Hunt and its very, very clever marketing. 

Usually, when a film gets pushed back, it makes a bit of news. When a film about a group of gun-toting “liberal elites” hunting “deplorables” for sport gets pushed back after a series of real-life mass shootings, it makes bigger news.

And so, when a film gets pushed back, postponed, cancelled altogether and Trump insists it was made “to inflame and cause chaos,” the marketing department can basically put their feet up. Giving The Hunt a new tagline of “the most talked about film” isn’t exactly misinformation. 

But what do we actually know about The Hunt? Until I finally saw it last night, all we had to go on was a brief synopsis, the trailer below and some assumptions based on the team involved. It’s directed by Craig Zobel and co-written by Damon Lindelof, who both worked on The Leftovers, and it’s a Blumhouse Production (think The Invisible Man and Purge), so you can safely assume it’s going to be thought-provoking, spiky and satirical.

Then there’s the trailer. In it, we see Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz and Betty Gilpin bound, gagged and afraid. We see running, violence, blood and chaos, as these “ordinary folk” are hunted by a group of elites, headed up by Hilary Swank. 

That is, of course, until Betty Gilpin’s Crystal cocks a shotgun and starts turning the hunters into the hunted. 

If that plot sounds simple enough, trust me when I tell you this: it isn’t. At all. Because, when the incredulous Swank asks Gilpin if she “actually believed we were hunting human beings for sport?”,  she replies with, “But you are…” 

Who’s lying? Oh, the intrigue! Fake news? Fake news!

So, going into The Hunt, we already know it’s going to tackle topics like misinformation and internet conspiracy theories. That it’s going to take a long hard look at politics, class, gun laws, immigration, race (“white people, we’re the worst”), too. That it’s going to be incredibly violent, with Gilpin in particular kicking some serious ass, culminating in a big Final Boss fight scene with Hilary Swank and taking a blowtorch to her own gaping wound. 

Above all else, though, we know we want to see it, because it actually looks quite good and “everyone is talking about it.” 

So, is The Hunt actually any good?

Well, this cynical, hard-to-please movie-goer actually had a good time. I use my internal “Sandwich Timer” to tell how much I’ve enjoyed a film, i.e. how far into the film will I get before I start thinking about sandwiches (6.30pm screenings, what are you gonna do?).

In 89 flying minutes (oh yes, drink it in), I didn’t think about sandwiches once. There’s non-stop action and story development, some enjoyable twists and turns, beats of dark humour, some killer lines and plenty of shocking violence. As expected, it’s clever, knows it’s clever and certainly kept me guessing. There’s definitely a freshness to it.

Justin Hartley and Emma Roberts in The Hunt
Justin Hartley and Emma Roberts star as two of the hunted.

Best of all, Gilpin is absolutely outstanding as Crystal, giving a tour-de-force performance that often reminded me of Sigourney Weaver. Superficially, she is utterly convincing as the film’s immensely tough, smart, self-sufficient and even sympathetic lead. But, more than that, the GLOW star pitches her performance perfectly, conveying the depth and complexity of the character with a power and presence that is at its most captivating when she is at her most understated.

While everyone else around Crystal is considerably more trigger happy with their firearms and flaming opinions, she’s noticeably more reserved. Her words and actions appear more considered and subsequently carry more weight. As a result, we come to trust Crystal as both our anchor and our moral compass in the midst of all this bloody chaos.

Betty Gilpin in The Hunt
Betty Gilpin gives an outstanding performance in The Hunt.

The Hunt does a fine job of staying impartial between the two groups; you don’t find yourself cheering or mourning any deaths, or rooting for anyone in particular. But is it really a good thing to be so well and truly stuck on the fence?

In a film that’s trying pretty hard to be provocative and divisive, it’s difficult to work out what it’s actually trying to say. And, in search of direction and meaning, you naturally look to the protagonist for steerage. What side of the fence will she (and, subsequently, the creators) come down on? 

Well, I’m not going to spoil it, but that’s the part that I found most frustrating of all.

Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank in The Hunt
Betty Gilpin comes face to face with Hilary Swank.

I started dissecting the film in my head afterwards, wondering what the point was of both “the hunt” and The Hunt and quickly realised I was just playing into their hands. It’s a film about conspiracy theories and misinformation, about throwing your opinion out into the world and seeing what comes back – and this stance almost makes the film grant itself a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. If anyone asks, “What’s the point of it all?”, the filmmakers can just fold their arms and say, “Well, quite. There is no spoon.”

This relatively safe form of satire – “Ha, won’t you just look at the state of things!” – shouldn’t be surprising when the other tagline on the poster says “Decide for yourself.” The script often reads like a Twitter timeline on a particular busy day, and there are times when The Hunt feels like it’s really about to say something. You sit up, panting with expectation. And then… someone literally gets distracted by a little pig in a shirt.

Hey! Look over here! Look at this pig! Who doesn’t love cute little animals in people clothes? Remember Spider-Pig? 

Ike Barinholtz in The Hunt
Ike Barinholtz phones a friend.

Wait, what were we talking about again? Oh yes, we’re talking about The Hunt, and you’d better get used to it. Like the poster suggests, you’ll talk about it before you see it and you’ll talk about it immediately after. It’ll dominate the post-cinema dinner conversation, where you’ll talk about race and class and how Swank slices her tomatoes.

Then, inevitably, when it clogs up Twitter timelines, WhatsApp groups and water cooler conversations, you’ll turn on it the way people do with Love Island or Joker, because you’ll be sick of everyone talking about it so much. But by that point, it doesn’t matter because you still had a good time at the cinema and Blumhouse Productions still has all our money.

But will you remember it, once we’ve all stopped talking about it? For Gilpin, hells yeah, but for everything else? I’m not so sure.

Images: Universal

The Hunt is in cinemas now

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