The Hunt

 

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The Hunt is the year’s smartest horror film (so far) and a politically contentious delight for genre fans. 

 
Hunt, The

A gag a minute: Emma Roberts is silenced

 

The less said about The Hunt the better. Because it’s not exactly what it appears to be. Its joys rest with its constant ability to surprise. Hell, we’re not even sure which country we’re in. “You’re in the glorious state of Arkansas, Sweetheart!” trumpets Amy Madigan’s friendly store owner. And her car plates outside would appear to back up her claim. Or is it all a game?

 

The Hunt follows in the familiar footsteps of RKO’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932), with dollops of The Running Man (1987), Saw (2004) and The Maze Runner (2014) thrown in for good measure. We know from the start that somebody thinks there’s “nothing better than slaughtering a dozen deplorables.” It’s there on a text message for us all to see. But it should have been deleted, even if it was a joke. A joke in cyberspace can have terrible consequences – as we are about to find out…

 

Five years ago, Craig Zobel directed a film called Z for Zachariah, which starred, in order of billing, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. The dystopian thriller received generally upbeat reviews, but failed to find an audience in spite of its weighty cast. And this was a film The New York Times praised for its “destabilizing force" and golden "casting" and "aesthetic," while The Wall Street Journal admired it for being “full of feeling and incipient menace,” etc, etc. Such adjectives apply equally to Zobel’s new film.

 

The calibre of acting lifts it far above most horror films, and Betty Gilpin, the nominal lead, is terrific. If there are caricatures in the mix, they are there for a reason. But it’s the script that constantly keeps one off balance, skilfully flitting between mordant black humour and genuine shock value. This is very much a film of the Internet age, and when Martin (Dean West) gloats that Ava DuVernay has ‘liked’ one of his posts, it establishes his inclusiveness. The absence of a major black character in the film is even alluded to in an act of brazen meta-referencing. The thing is, why are the story’s “deplorables” so judged? And by whom? One victim answers her own question when she enquires of her tormentor, “who am I?” To which the chilling correction is, “Whom am I?” We all make mistakes.

 

Not everything will connect with the film’s desired demographic, although there’s plenty of thrills and “strong bloody violence and gory images” (to quote the BBFC) to keep them happy. And the stunt work is particularly impressive, as are the canny casting choices. As a very modern, very dark and unpredictable social satire on the haves and have-nots, The Hunt will inevitably prompt comparisons with Parasite. And, depending on your stance, only you can decide which is the more enjoyable.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Ike Barinholtz, Betty Gilpin, Amy Madigan, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Hilary Swank, Sturgill Simpson, Reed Birney, Steve Coulter, Wayne Duvall, Dean West, Vince Pisani, Teri Wyble, Steve Mokate, Jason Kirkpatrick, Macon Blair, J.C. MacKenzie, Tadasay Young, Hannah Alline.

 

Dir Craig Zobel, Pro Jason Blum and Damon Lindelof, Screenplay Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, Ph Darran Tiernan, Pro Des Matthew Munn, Ed Jane Rizzo, Music Nathan Barr, Costumes David Tabbert, Dialect coach Ann Kos Edwards.

 

Blumhouse Productions/White Rabbit Productions-Universal Pictures.

89 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 11 March 2020. Cert. 15.