More famous for raising Trump’s ire than anything else, and after being initially shelved in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, The Hunt finally arrives in theaters six months after its scheduled release. Though it follows a plot we’ve seen many times before—humans hunting humans for sport—the film benefits from being in the hands of superb director Craig Zobel (Z for Zachariah) and also from a largely winning script by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse (son of Lindelof’s Lost partner Carlton). This is far from just a Surviving the Game or Hard Target redux.
Betty Gilpin stars as Crystal, one of twelve “deplorables” who come to in a field, gagged and not at all sure what is going on or where they are. As bullets start flying, they quick come to realize they are the prey in a high-stakes game of survival. Some have heard rumors of the so-called Manorgate hunt only to now understand they’re part of it.
While some of the hunted don’t last through the first minute (including a handful of recognizable actors in nifty cameos) Crystal survives and makes it her mission to not only keep surviving but take out the hunters one by one. Along the way, the true nature of the hunt is made clear (in what amounts to a clever twist), as Crystal slowly starts putting the pieces together and turning the tables.
Gilpin (TV’s GLOW) rules the day, turning in her first lead performance in sterling fashion, anchoring The Hunt with what can only be referred to as delightful redneck charm. Crystal’s fierceness and intelligence pull us onto her side almost instantly, and whether it’s saving her own life because she knows the price of cigarettes in Arkansas or telling one of her fellow hunt-ees the most warped version of The Tortoise and the Hare ever, she’s one of the most memorable characters to hit screens so far this year.
Of course, much of the credit also goes to Lindelof and Cuse for taking a fairly standard firebrand of a set-up and turning it on its head. It’s not a flawless victory by any means—the messaging occasionally gets too heavy-handed for its own good, and the script blows an opportunity to give the hunters the same depth and dimension as the hunted), but there’s more than enough still at play here to make it worthwhile.
Zobel, for his part, keeps everything tight and brisk (the movie clocks in at an efficient 90 minutes), and his choreography of the entire hunt, including the climactic one-on-one fight, are spot-on and believable, even as the entire concept is played as a gory (though goofy) horror-satire. There’s no doubt that plenty of folks will have an issue with the film, not only with its violence but its politics, but for those able to just kick back and use it as a bit of escapist entertainment, The Hunt is worth putting in your sights.