THE HUNT (2020) review

The Hunt (Universal Pictures)

The Hunt is in cinemas now!

Synopsis

Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are — or how they got there. In the shadow of a dark internet conspiracy theory, ruthless elitists gather at a remote location to hunt humans for sport. But their master plan is about to be derailed when one of the hunted, Crystal, turns the tables on her pursuers.

Review

The Hunt is the kind of film which only comes along once and a while. A true gem which subverts the genre perfectly to the point where it almost becomes impossible to classify.

Is it a horror? Well there are a couple of jump scares as poor victims have their heads blown off. Is it a thriller? If you’re asking whether I was thrilled by what I witnessed then yes, this film was entirely thrilling. Was it a comedy then? Well yes it’s that too. I definitely laughed out loud on a number of occasions.

The Hunt is actually all of the above rolled in to one unwavering rollercoaster of a film. From the opening logos, soundtracked by a hugely ostentatious piece of score, it’s made clear to the audience that this isn’t going to be the film that you expected after seen the trailer.

At every opportunity The Hunt will challenge your expectations of the story, the genre and, if you’re not careful, it will also take careful aim at your political views.

The premise is perfectly simple, twelve complete strangers wake up in the countryside, gagged and completely unaware of where they are or how they got there. Events unfold that explain these twelve were selected by a group of American elites, selected to be hunted and killed for their political views, lifestyle choices and apparent missteps in life. But herein lies one of the films biggest lingering questions.

Which group really were the real bad guys?

In terms of the film’s point-of-view, most of the narrative is explained from the standpoint of those being hunted. Firstly, we meet the poor victim who woke up early on the plane in a scene which brilliantly presents a microcosm of the film itself. His disorientation at waking up on the plane and the reaction of the other passengers is a total delight to watch and really had the audience on edge as we all attempted to make sense of what we had just watched.

I have to admit that I fell in to a trap which was perfectly laid out for me in the trailer. Emma Roberts, a Hollywood leading lady and Justin Hartley, the dashing Green Arrow from Smallville, clearly these two will play huge roles right? Wrong! The stereotype beautiful couple who, during their brief screen time, share some longing glances and touching moments of humanity, are two of the first to go (and in gruesome fashion I might add). It’s just another example of how The Hunt will challenge your expectations at every turn.

Really I should have expected nothing less from a film written by Nick Cuse (Watchmen, Maniac) and Damon Lindleof (Lost, Watchmen). There’s a level of intelligence lurking behind every major decision in the script all the way from killing of the blonde first to making Betty Gilpin’s excellent Crystal be far more than what she seemed.

If I were reaching for a comparison then The Hunt is certainly in the same vein as Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods, an excellent satire on modern society but also on its genre. But make no mistake, when The Hunt takes itself seriously it does so with reckless abandon as it presents some truly visceral fight sequences.

Casting on the film is excellent. Aside from Hilary Swank there’s a pecking order for cast members with recognisable faces as the most famous get taken out until only the lesser known actors remain and I was left with no doubt that Gilpin was hired because nobody would expect her to be the action hero.

The cast is split in to two camps. The elites: Hilary Swank, Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, Glenn Howerton, Steve Coulter, Dean J. West, Vince Pisano, Teri Wyble, Steve Mokate, Macon Blair and (possibly) Wayne Duvall. They represent the super rich, the over indulgers and the self-appointed saviours of humanity. I’ve no doubt that they thought what they were doing was, in some respect, teaching society a lesson. Their conviction to their cause is downright disturbing and you know they absolutely all voted for Trump.

Though they spend only small amounts of time on screen the elite, who make up “Manor Gate”, serve a very interesting purpose to the story. When off-screen they are the unseen enemy of these poor unfortunate souls. On-screen they represent everything we “normal” folk would suggest is wrong with high society.

On the other side you have the victims of the titular hunt, lead by Betty Gilpin there is also, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Ethan Suplee, Christopher Berry, Sturgill Simpson, Kate Nowlin, Sylvia Grace Crim, Jason Kirkpatrick and (possibly) Wayne Duvall.

The script does an excellent job of portraying their fear at being hunted and desperation to survive, it paints them as the film’s victims until it decides that there’s yet more going on than meets the eye. During the third act, The Hunt cleverly reveals that there is more to this group than simply being the “rednecks” chosen for slaughter by their cruel masters.

Flashback scenes featuring Swank’s Athena and the rest of the elite builds a new layer of context over the narrative so far and introduces some heavy complications for us an audience.

Justin Hartley’s Trucker is revealed to be a poacher, Ike Barinholtz’s Staten Island is a pro-gun supporter and Ethan Suplee’s Gary had spread the rumour of Manor Gate’s existence on the web causing each of the elite to lose their place within high society. Nobody in The Hunt is as clean as they seem and it certainly leaves you with some big moral questions when the credits roll.

The third act of The Hunt ties up many to the loose ends in a very satisfying manner. It maintains the strong balance between its disparate elements by injecting some truly laugh out loud moments in to what is an otherwise brutal combat scene between Hilary Swank and Betty Gilpin. All of the action scenes in the film are punctuated by some excellent sound design, explosions are loud and hand-to-hand combat features guttural effects which had plenty of audience members wincing in pain.

The production feels effortlessly tight overall and that stems from the strong script which underpins it. Nathan Barr provides an excellent score which, at times, borders on sounding like Nathan Johnson’s work on Knives Out. It sits at odd with the overall genre but fits perfectly with the aesthetic the team has created.

Visual effects are minimal and well incorporated with the surrounding environments, used to enhance moments of gore rather than to take the film in to more outlandish territory. Practical effects are brilliantly implemented where poor victims are blown up or shot. The scene with Dead Sexy (Sylvia Grace Crim) caught on spikes in a pit springs to mind as a great example of practical effects.

Verdict

The Hunt is fantastically subversive at every turn. It challenges archetypal roles in horror movies, genre tropes and even our political views at every turn. Gory, laugh out loud and bloody brutal!

8/10

The Hunt is written by Lindelof and his fellow Watchmen collaborator Nick Cuse and is directed by Craig Zobel (Z for ZachariahThe Leftovers). Blum produces for his Blumhouse Productions alongside Lindelof. The film is executive produced by Zobel, Cuse and Steven R. Molen.


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By Neil Vagg

Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & TV and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG