If filmmaking is an exercise in getting an audience to invest in an imaginary world, “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel, succeeds in spades. If filmmaking is meant to deliver a clear message to audiences, “The Hunt” does a fairly decent job, though there may be issues with the message itself. If filmmaking is meant to be innovative, “The Hunt” doesn’t do much — it looks and feels exactly like many other entries in the Blumhouse Productions catalog, and doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. Still, the movie’s violent ridiculousness has a certain appeal — if you can get past the moments of mediocrity.
The concept of “The Hunt” is a simple one: A group of wealthy liberals hunts and kills a group of poor conservatives. It’s a concept many people, the president included, reacted to viscerally. The film itself, however, goes further than its basic concept: “The Hunt” is ridiculous. And it loves how absolutely ridiculous it is.
The movie revels in unrealism. From the jump, the violence is unbelievable. Characters survive unprecedented amounts of gore, from arrows to land mines. If there is one thing the film wants to tell you in its first 10 minutes, it’s that it is not meant to be realistic. This self-treatment assists the production in delivering its crucial theme: that the differences we face as a country are a matter of perception. Whether or not the film’s theory holds water is up to the viewer, but the harsh, almost exaggerated stereotyping of the movie’s characters defies any human who exists in the real world.
These characters are presented to viewers in two waves. The wealthy hunters are introduced through a series of texts complaining about the president, and then on a private jet where Richard (Glenn Howerton) condescendingly asks the stewardess if she’s ever had caviar. Then the action starts, and the hunted are presented one by one. The point of view shifts continuously as one after the other character dies off, preventing attachment or security. Viewers get occasional moments of characterization — an Air Force baseball cap or a hurried defense of the Second Amendment — before characters are shot or blown to pieces. Eventually, the story settles on Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a mostly apolitical figure who’s just trying to survive, played by Gilpin with an appropriate combination of disinterest and caution.
Most of these short-lived characters are played for laughs, though it’s unclear whose expense these laughs are at. The actors seem to be having a good time with it — there’s nothing world-class here, but everyone hits their marks and says their lines.
The story moves effortlessly from scene to scene, and, after the opening bloodbath, the tension and stakes are well established. The absurdity of the world and its characters constantly lingers, but is never a roadblock to the story. The film thrives in its weirdest moments, like one survivor’s (Wayne Duvall) fascination with Crystal’s bizarre retelling of the tortoise and the hare fable, or, as she calls it, the box turtle and the jackrabbit.
The movie’s production is best described as competent. It doesn’t attempt anything groundbreaking, but the cinematography does its job. The editing, while a little jarring in some dialogue moments, is built for the action scenes, particularly the final one between Crystal and Athena (Hilary Swank), which also makes good use of sound and set design. The soundtrack and score are perhaps the most aggressively competent part of the film, to the point of boredom. The music could have been ripped out of any other thriller, but it’s boring at worst, and never gets in the way.
“The Hunt” is an absurd world with absurd characters, as it is meant to be. It is violent, mocking everything from conspiracy theory podcasters to optics-based corporate culture. The heroine has no interest in the film’s class or political divides, even if everybody else does. There is nothing terribly remarkable about the filmmaking, but it creates the feelings and thoughts it wants to create, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.