THE HUNT

Published On March 13, 2020 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“THE HUNT”
Starring Betty Gilpin, ‚ÄčIke Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank
Written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof
Directed by Craig Zobel
Produced by Jason Blum and Damon Lindelof
Cinematography by Darran Tiernan
Edited by Jane Rizzo
Music by Nathan Barr

By Matt Neufeld
The Washington Film Institute
March 12, 2020

The verdict is in on the over-hyped, horrendously misunderstood and wholly forgettable movie “The Hunt:” The movie is much ado about absolutely nothing. This dumb, cliched, unoriginal, trite, average-to-poor, excessively–and unnecessarily–violent, blood-soaked, very basic action-adventure thriller is nothing more than just that–a violent, bloody, gory, exploitation action-adventure thriller. With lame action, lame adventure and lame thrills.

The movie fails at insightful, intelligent, intellectual satire, parody or even humor–despite several attempts at all three areas.

The movie didn’t need to be postponed from its initial fall release. The movie’s literally not good enough to even be at the center of any real or manufactured controversy that would merit a postponement. And its violence is so cartoonish–bloody, gory and graphic, yes, but also cartoonish–that no one has to worry about the movie inciting to, contributing to, or causing any subsequent violence.

The movie didn’t deserve the pseudo-fear-mongering, hate-mongering, misinformation and disinformation in the fall of 2019–pseudo because no one seen the dern movie yet; everyone misunderstood what the movie was and was actually about; and–again–the movie isn’t smart enough to have deserved any of the panic and concern.

And, from there, the movie shouldn’t be hated from anyone from any political party, side, platform, stance, partisan leaning or ideology–because it’s just not smart or insightful enough to deserve or generate those levels of political, social, cultural or sociological frustration, antagonism, arguing, discourse, discussion, analysis or angst. The movie’s simply not deep enough to waste time arguing about it.

From a filmic perspective, the movie is unoriginal; cliched; stilted; filled with dumb dialogue; bizarrely hampered by jumbled pacing; equally bungled by terrible timing and execution; is brought down by a complete lack of suspense, tension and real sense of conflict; is overall amateurish on nearly every level; fixates to an odd, settling and pathological–but never entertaining–level of over-done, overly-graphic, overly-gross violence; and generally suffers from completely sub-par story, plot, subplot, backstory, story development and character development.

Thus, in the end, “The Hunt” is not worth the hype, not worth the concern, not worth the discussion–and certainly not worth your hard-earned money.

A better bet this weekend–March 13-15, 2020–at the movies is to head on out and see “The Way Back”–the best movie released so far this year. And if you haven’t yet seen “Birds of Prey,” “The Gentlemen,” “The Rhythm Section” and “Sonic the Hedgehog,” those, too, would be good bets at the theaters.

Interestingly, several of the major problems that kill “The Hunt” are the same problems that equally killed the average-to-poor “The Invisible Man,” which was just released on Feb. 28, 2020: Both movies are unoriginal, lame, cliched remakes of original source material and both movies completely destroy the original source materials’ basic positive aspects, story, plot, characters and charm and attractiveness; both movies are overly and unnecessarily graphically violence, and the violence helps bring down both movies; and both movies are–alas, sigh, what to do, what to do–horribly, terribly produced by the increasingly irrelevant, tiresome, burdensome and over-extended, over-saturated producer Jason Blum, one of the more ingratiating, irritating producers working in film today. Film after film, Blum’s productions are all the same–lame stories, characters, pacing, timing and dialogue; that already-mentioned psychotic fixation on graphic violence; the same droning music; the same editing that contains an over-reliance of cat-and-mouse scenes, jump scares and other cliches; and characters who are unlikeable, even hateful. What’s there to like in cookie-cutter movies like these? Not much at all.

With “The Hunt,” the movie is yet another variation on writer Richard Connell’s famed, excellently-crafted 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” which was first published in the Collier’s magazine. However, again, much like Blum’s failed “Invisible Man,” “The Hunt” completely trashes, diminishes, ruins and casts aside most of the intelligence and originality that made the original short story so fascinating, intriguing–and popular. “Hunt” director Craig Zobel and writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof thought they were being original and creative by attempting to update the short story’s basic, one-line-summarization premise–humans hunting other humans in a remote location–by trying to place the story in modern times with modern characters supposedly representing modern-day political divides, divisions and partisan battlegrounds, but their experiment failed because of the aforementioned filmic faults. As with many attempted remakes, reboots and reimaginings, Zobel, Cuse and Lindelof would have been better off if they had simply made a technologically-proficient remake of Connell’s original story with Connell’s original characters, settings, situations and story. That would have been a much better movie.

Zobel, Cuse and Lindelof have defended and attempted to explain just what they were trying to do in “The Hunt” in several media interviews during the past year, but it’s interesting: What they were talking about in the newspaper, magazine and other media interviews sounds very interesting and smart–but none of the interesting and smart insight the filmmakers mentioned in those interviews actually ended up in the final film. It’s as if that intelligence drifted away from the filmmakers during filming–or Blum was calling the shots to a degree where Zobel had to listen to the producer–and everything just dissolved and devolved into an seemingly endless array of scenes, shots, sets and situations where, in the end, the only thing that mattered was seeing how another living, breathing human being could be grossly, sickeningly, brutally stabbed, shot, impaled, gored, mangled or blown up. In fact, that last sentence ends up pretty much summing up “The Hunt”–in the end, it’s just a series of scenes where human being get killed, with zero suspense, tension or conflict. It’s just kill, kill, kill–and even if Zobel, Cuse and Lindelof were intended the killings to be symbolic or to send a message–they failed. There is a way to have violence make a point, of course, but there is also a way to over-do the violence and have the literal displays of violence over-take, over-whelm and obliterate the intended message. This happens in hundreds of films, and it’s a wonder that filmmakers don’t sit and take notes and pay attention to the truly talented filmmakers who are indeed able to have violence come through with a clear-cut, smart message, theme, moral and point.

In their heyday, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian de Palma, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, Oliver Stone, William Friedkin, George Romero and even Alfred Hitchcock–on a certain level–were criticized for their movie violence. But these truly talented, creative and groundbreaking director-producer-writer filmmakers were able to craft instant-classic films that were not just violent, but contained violence to actually make a point about that violence in a way that came through to audiences, prompted an intellectual reaction from audiences–and actually made audiences stop and think–and prompt true concern about–violence in society. And this wasn’t by accident–these filmmakers wholly intended to prompt these reactions. Additionally, these filmmakers crafted a different style of movie violence that was a bit more, shall we say, refined, sensitive, stylized–as much as portrayals of violence can be in these areas–and was not so horrifically, graphically cringeworthy that audiences were completely turned away in an irritating manner. Now, that might prompt an immediate argument when it comes to the worst movie violence from all of these directors–yes, much of it is indeed graphically violent and gross and filled with bloody gore–yes–but, again, it’s still a different style of filmmaking from, say, lesser, more ingratiating modern-day filmmakers such as Blum, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and other similar, recent filmmakers. Again, it all comes down to how the violence is seemingly seamlessly crafted and blended into the film along with the attendant messages, themes, morals and points. You may have thought that Romero, Craven, Friedkin, Cronenberg, Carpenter and Hooper, especially, with their horror films, were just going for exploitation, easy shocks and easy gross-out scenes–but they weren’t. Because even the goriest, bloodiest films from these directors were intended to have, and did have, those concurrent messages, themes, points and morals.

Now, Zobel, Cuse and Lindelof will stand up, yell and argue that they did include concurrent messages, themes, points and morals in “The Hunt”–and they would be right. But, again, and again, their attempts simply do not work, are not effective, do not come through, do not even make you think much, and do indeed get buried amid the impalings, stabbings, shootings, fistfights, gunshots, explosions and people literally being blown up. In the case of “The Hunt,” the violence overwhelms everything around it–including the filmmakers’ intended best intentions.

“The Hunt” tells the story about one group of people with a certain set of ideologies–some apparent liberal, leftie progressive elites–drugging, kidnapping and hunting another group of people with another certain set of ideologies–some apparent conservative, right-wing blue-collar conservative middle-class folks. However, before anyone gets all upset about one side bashing and trashing another side, it should be noted that every single person in both groups of people-except one person–are basically portrayed as morons and idiots–and that includes the apparent liberals and the apparent conservatives. The word “apparent” is used here because the attempts at portraying both groups as abiding by certain partisan belief systems is also lame, underwritten, poorly-written and poorly-constructed. There just aren’t enough actual scenes of grown adults sitting down and discussing important political, societal, cultural and sociological issues–actually talking like intelligent adult human beings–and, if there were such scenes in “The Hunt,” this could have been a real movie. As it turns out, the movie instead relies too much and too easily on very simple, every cliched hot-button generalizations, stereotypes, phrases, words and cliches that too-simply summarize everyone’s world view in a few random sentences, talking points, media bites and far too shortened and truncated sentences. That’s not real political discussion, and that avoids tackling real issues in real intelligent manners in real intelligent dialogue, scenes and drama. A few media bite phrases, cliches, generalizations and talking points amid increasingly graphic scenes of people getting killed is not intelligent or insightful filmmaking–it’s just trite, dumbed-down, amateurish and exploitation.

Thus, the hunt itself–which should have been the center and foundation of the movie–is reduced to, basically, nothing. As noted, there’s literally zero suspense, tension or real conflict. Imagine scenes in which some well-defined people from one ideological side stalk, slither and actually hunt through some dense, claustrophobic woods, forests and wilderness, trying to hunt down and kill some well-defined people from another ideological side. None of that actually happens to a large degree, or how it should happen, in “The Hunt.” A possibly great idea and premise were just squandered for–you guessed it, as you should know by now–yet another scene simply showing people getting blown away or blown up in a graphic manner. It’s blood sport without the real sport. It’s an intended hunt–without the real hunt. It’s a game of survival–without the needed rules and regulations and guidelines of a real game. In the end, the action portrayed in “The Hunt” doesn’t register as sport, wilderness survival exercise, a survival exercise–or a game.

The lone standout character–and actor–in the movie is Betty Gilpin as Crystal, a character who was, as it turns out–and this gives nothing away, because it’s apparent from the start–was mistakenly drugged and kidnapped, does not fit the ideology or biases of either side, and, essentially, should not be there, on any level in terms of what the kidnappers intended for their hunted prey. Crystal is the lone successful embodiment in the movie of a real person, a real human being–down-to-earth, tough, gutsy, courageous, smart on a common sense level, and simply a likeable, gruff, tough, no-nonsense, grounded person. Crystal’s the type of person you’d actually like to hang out with–unlike any of the other characters. Now, it’s clear that this indeed what the filmmakers intended Crystal to symbolize, and that’s backed up by their interviews, but when only one characterization, only one character, only one actor, works on any workable level in a movie, that cannot save the film. Thus, as likeable as Crystal the character actually is, and as likeable as Gilpin’s acting is in the movie–it’s too little, too late.

If anything, “The Hunt” should propel Gilpin to more and many upcoming lead roles in future films. If “The Hunt” can succeed on any level, this would be a good level of success. Gilpin shines in the role, and it is indeed great to see Gilpin kick some derriere in the movie. But, again, it’s just not enough to save the movie.

There have been hundreds of variations of Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” through the decades–on film, on television, on radio, in books, in animation, in video games, in online games, and even in songs!–but for fans of this great, classic short story, let’s choose, for now, just one excellent variation of the story to watch and relish and enjoy: A 1998 episode of the remade–and vastly improved–series “The Outer Limits” was also called “The Hunt,” and in this episode, spoiled, rich humans hunt enslaved, poorly-treated, but likeable–and increasingly human–androids through the forest. The rules and parameters are seemingly rigged against the androids in favor of the moronic humans–but the androids band together, develop a plan, and completely disrupt the hunt. However, as in many episodes of “The Outer Limits,” there are unforeseen dangers, risks, twists and turns in the story. This beautifully-crafted, excellently-written-and-directed-and-acted one-hour episode contains so much emotion, feeling, insight, analysis, intelligence and satisfaction, this episode set the bar high for all later versions of “The Most Dangerous Game.” This episode contains all of the intelligence, sociological discussion, analytical discourse and messages, symbols, themes, morals and points that completely elude and are completely lacking in the 2020 movie version also called “The Hunt.” Find and watch this “Outer Limits” episode–it’s simply excellent. Certainly, Connell himself would have loved this version of his beloved story.

No other variation or version of Connell’s story has matched, on any level, this “Outer Limit’s” episode–since 1998. This episode set a high bar for variations of “The Most Dangerous Game” and no one–in any medium–has passed that bar during the last twenty-two years. Really.

So as the weekend approaches, avoid the pitfalls of the ides of March, and don’t make plans to go out on “The Hunt,” in terms of the 2020 movie version. Instead, see those other, previously-mentioned, recommend films currently out in the theaters–or search online and in the streaming world and find that 1998 episode of “The Outer Limits” called “The Hunt.” There, you’ll find in one hour some truly lasting messages to think about. As the narrator so perceptively states at the end of the episode: “As machines grow more human, we must be wary that we do not become less so.”

Now, that’s something to think about.

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