In this harrowing, high-impact follow-up to The Invisible War (on the rape epidemic within the U.S. military), writer-director Kirby Dick again teams with producer Amy Ziering, to take on reputable colleges that systematically ignore the issue of campus rape, thereby enabling serial predators. With Rolling Stone’s recent incomplete reporting of the UVA rape case still fresh in memory, the timely Hunting Ground repeatedly reminds viewers that false reports of sexual assault account for less than 10 percent of charges brought. By and large, Dick encourages his audience to believe the victims, disrupting a deeply rooted culture of containment veiled from public attention.
Despite constructing its story via the overused formula of talking heads and statistics, the film hits the main artery by giving voice to the silenced (some, like Erica Kinsman, who accused Florida State’s star quarterback Jameis Winston of rape, speak here publicly for the first time). In chronicling the grassroots efforts of an activist group that eventually files Title IX complaints against several schools, the documentary bolsters its case with a convincing scrutiny of business-minded universities that prioritize their reputation and major grant sources—including several toxic fraternities—over student safety.
While the film poignantly contrasts the educational pride conveyed in early moments—scored to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”—with the eventual trauma that one in five women are estimated to suffer, it unfortunately hits a pair of false notes in its closing moments. Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You” is unnecessarily on-the-nose, while an end-credits warning to avoid certain frats comes dangerously close to lazy victim-blaming. Yet The Hunting Ground still shocks and awakens its audience in all the right ways, bringing the recent headlines of a Columbia University rape survivor carrying her mattress around into irrefutably urgent, sharp focus.
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