Here’s the problem with Nickelback: they’re too polished. I know nobody wants to admit it but individually, Nickelback songs are not that offensive. It’s the band as a whole that sucks, because the components of Nickelback— their music, their image, their history, the personalities of the brothers Kroeger—come together to form a boardroom’s idea of what you, Average North American in the 18-35 Age Demographic, would like to listen to. The problem with Nickelback is that they are what would happen if a bunch of music producers got together and studied what made past bands successful and then, based upon that research, genetically engineered the perfect rock band.
There’s something depressing about the “art” that emanates out the backside of entities like Nickelback, because it is in their corporate vision of working-class grittiness that you are shown what the people who run the entertainment world really think of you.
Which brings me to The Hunt. Directed by Craig Zobel and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, this is a movie about a bunch of “liberal elite cucks” (in the words of one character) led by Hilary Swank who hunt, “Most Dangerous Game” style, a bunch of “educationally challenged rednecks” (in the words of another).
The main problem with this movie is that it claims to want to interrogate the extremes of American political thought, but has no interest in asking how we ended up ruled by extremes to begin with. For a political satire, it’s bizarre that this film seems to avoid taking its own political opinion, a disappointment made even more bitter by the involvement of Damon Lindelof, whose past HBO masterpieces The Leftovers and Watchmen had no such cowardice. I know awful liberals and I know awful conservatives, but comparing the violent conspiracism that’s running rampant among the right wing of this country up to the tippy top of the White House with the left’s sillier preoccupations about what’s “problematic” is disingenuous. There’s no equal ground between the two. There’s no one to ally yourself with in this story because everybody sucks, and not in a way that’s particularly recognizable.
But maybe you just want dumb gory fun. If that’s the case, you might find what you want here, who am I to say. There’s certainly blood. People sure do get blown to pieces a few times. I will say, though, as a person who would rather a movie address than shy away from violence, that the blood in this movie didn’t do it for me. What is meant to be outrageous feels canned, unsure about how realistic it wants to be and therefore difficult to ingest either as comedy or tragedy. Violence in The Hunt is a distraction, Zobel and Lindelof jingling their car keys in front of you, saying “look over here!”
And yet sometimes a flower sprouts out of the cow pie. In this case it’s Betty Gilpin as our surprise hero Crystal; an underestimated victim of The Hunt that Hilary Swank reeeally shouldn’t have given a gun to. She is the source of every ounce of fun in this movie. Her dry humor and Buster Keaton-esque control over her facial muscles makes The Hunt almost worth watching.
Let’s be real though, the actual star of The Hunt is its marketing team. This movie was slated for release last September, and in August was the subject of some controversy after reports of disturbed test audiences and a working title that some found insulting (Red State vs. Blue State, supposedly). Even the President rose to the bait, tweeting that “Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate!”
It got to a point where Universal finally had to make a statement about the film, through a Variety interview with Damon Lindelof and producer Jason Blum. Together they made it clear that The Hunt isn’t a dangerous movie, that in fact it had very positive test screenings and never had an incendiary working title and how dare YOU, sir, for implying that Universal had anything but good intentions when it leaked all this to the press hoping to drum up some controversy.
Oops, did I say that?
The reason you’re seeing this movie now instead of September is because two of your now regularly scheduled American mass shootings occurred around the original date of release. At a time when most of us wake up in the morning wondering what fresh hell is in store for the day, a pandering, spineless take on current events like this is more of an existential bummer than the outlet for political frustration it thinks it is.
More than that, though, it’s a reminder of how out of touch Hollywood can be—how willing certain people within the film industry are to capitalize upon the horrible things they typically don’t have to deal with, with a chummy wink and a claim to know what you’re going through. They hope you’ll see the quotes plastered on the poster for this movie from bad reviews calling it things like “dangerous, demented and evil” and assume that they’re on your side, part of the counterculture, speaking truth to power. In reality this is a movie that skillfully avoids any real offense to anyone, while trying to get you to think you’ve experienced something transgressive. At the end of it all, The Hunt is just noise.
Kind of like Nickelback.
3/10, 1 for Betty Gilpin, 1 for staying under 2 hours, 1 for pointing the camera in the right direction.