The Hunt is a sledgehammer satire meant to pick at the scabs of partisan division. It's an ultra-violent, bloody deathmatch between so-called "liberal elites" and the "deplorables" of flyover country. Red states vs blue states, gun control vs gun rights, Fox News vs NPR, you get the drift. The film revels in stereotypes and savagery. The controversy, or hype in my opinion, is much ado about nothing. The Hunt isn't clever or incisive, but actually entertaining in a gleefully macabre way.

A twenty-something bleached blonde in yoga pants (Emma Roberts) wakes up in a rural field. She's gagged with a padlock. Eleven others mill about in the same confused state. There's a wooden crate in the open before them. A crowbar lays beside it. A man with a handlebar mustache opens the crate. A pig comes squealing out. The crate is filled with weapons. A shot hits a wooden panel. The Hunt begins.

As the unwilling participants run for cover, another blonde (Betty Gilpin) assesses the situation with remarkable clarity. She soon meets others of her capable ilk (Ethan Suplee, Ike Barinholtz). They quickly realize they are being hunted for sport. Their attackers have given them code names. The game is rigged against them. The situation looks hopeless, but never underestimate your opponent's will to survive. Seemingly hapless prey may be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The Hunt was originally scheduled for release last September. It was delayed in the aftermath of mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. A wave of criticism, particularly from conservative media outlets, decried a Hollywood film where liberals hunted their political foes. Ignoring the hypocrisy of mass shootings happening on a nearly daily basis, Universal pulled the film. Six months later, The Hunt proves to be nothing more than fodder for the culture wars.

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Co-writer and producer Damen Lindelof (Lost) has made a career of exploring social strife. In some instances he's great, HBO's Watchmen and The Leftovers are masterful. Lindelof takes the classic short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, and updates the premise for our bickering social media times. The Hunt is a simple plot with a heavy-handed approach. Each character represents an extreme personality in a radical situation. The film is akin to pouring hot sauce on a plate full of chili peppers. There's nothing thoughtful or discussion worthy here.

The Hunt works as a low-budget splatter fest between two ass-kicking women. Extreme violence doesn't normally hold my interest, but the lead actresses elevate the gory material. Betty Gilpin vs Hilary Swank, a two time Oscar winner for Best Actress, is a fight worth seeing. Swank is deliciously villainous. Betty Gilpin jacks up her wrestling moves from Glow. She's tough as nails with a no-nonsense smirk. The trailers keep the actual stars out of sight to milk the delay controversy. That was a mistake. The Hunt could have been marketed as a twisted girl power face off.

The Hunt should not be viewed as a think piece or social commentary. It's not that smart. Forget the politics. Embrace Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, and mindless carnage. The Hunt is a Blumhouse Production with distribution by Universal Pictures.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman