As ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ pointed out, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid. This satirical Maga-sploitation movie from the ever-zeitgeisty Blumhouse Productions (‘Get Out’, ‘The Purge’) bulldozes across it in a hail of bullets and increasingly annoying riffs on the current political discourse. It’s purpose-built to cause a social media furore – it’s already sparked a mini-meltdown on Donald Trump’s feed – which makes it a weird new kind of anti-escapist escapism. The kind of escapism likely to have people shouting at complete strangers online. What joy!
The smart(ish) bit has a motley band of Americans, including Betty Gilpin’s tough-nut Midwesterner and Ike Barinholtz’s blue-collar New Yorker, drugged and transported to a mysterious rural location. There, they are left to uncover a small arsenal of weapons shortly before unseen snipers start taking them out. It’s another riff on ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, a 1924 humans-hunt-humans short story by American journalist Richard Connell that has already given us Robert Wise’s ‘A Game of Death’ (1945) and rattlesnake-punching Jean-Claude Van Damme actioner ‘Hard Target’ (1993). This one is more ‘Libtard Target’: here, the perpetrators aren’t just generic rich types but generic rich liberals. Or, as one of their panicky marks puts it: ‘The global cucks who run the Deep State’.
It starts strongly, with the gory deaths coming thick, fast and often unexpectedly, and Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse’s script giving the viewer no purchase on the unfolding mayhem. The underrated Gilpin is a steely, lib-owning presence, too. But the surprises soon dry up, bar a character reveal that’s obviously meant to land with more impact than it does and a final-act twist that’s really thin soup.
The only thing that keeps ‘The Hunt’ from settling into the predictable rhythms of an action-thriller you’ve seen a hundred times before are the comic jabs at everything from veganism to Haiti to pro-choice campaigners to rabid alt-right talk-show hosts. (No one explains why the liberals are so fluid on the whole second amendment thing here.) How entertaining you think it is depends on how funny you find your Twitter feed: the 2020 version, not when it was all Pikachu and ‘Hotline Bling’ memes. If there’s a message to all this, beyond that we live in polarised times, it’s not one that director Craig Zobel is particularly keen to explore. You’re left with a film that laughs at everything but says nothing – and there’s a word for that: sad! n Phil de Semlyen