In satirising an entire political debate, it is important to have a point. This is the point of contention with most provocative films. What is Lars Von Trier trying to accomplish in showing a man hunting his family. What does Michel Haneke want to express in having a family tortured to death? Is S. Craig Zahler trying to achieve anything beyond genre thrills? And so we come to The Hunt.
Eleven people, bound only by their right-wing politics, wake up in the forest and find they are being hunted. As they seem to escape the confines of the game they discover the true extent of The Hunt and the sinister motivations behind it.
Director Craig Zobel insists the idea was not to cause controversy and that the internet has reacted immaturely to the film. It seems very disingenuous to suggest the filmmakers were unaware of this film’s potential provocation. The concept of dividing the cast along party lines and having them literally kill each other is inherently provocative. Were one to make a film in which a group of men herd up a group of women and then hunt them, or vice versa, you could hardly suggest gender was irrelevant to the film’s themes. The marketing for the film has emphasised it’s divisive effect on critics. Unfortunately without much substance to its critique, this does feel like a rather cynical move to stir up interest.
The intention is to satirise both sides of the argument. The film takes shots at both sides but positions the liberals as the villains. They are the ones hunting down the opposition and murdering them. It’s an interesting insight into the differing nature of class and politics in the current United States. The deplorables are working-class stereotypes fuelled by anger, whilst the liberal elite are powerful but cruelly detached and cold. This is very much the reverse of the standard stereotypes in the uk in which the left are the angry men and women in the street whilst the right are the cynical office dwellers looking down on everyone. As an insight into class warfare it’s skin-deep, but as an insight into white perceptions of class warfare, it’s very revealing.
The film is not going to get to the bottom of why we are so polarised these days. It’s not going to hold anyone in particular to account, though it does seem to reserve some ire for social media. Consequently, the political aspects of the film do feel like set dressing and at best a chance to make some satirical gags with its characters. This unfortunately forms a barrier between us and the characters as they are not so much thinking and feeling individuals as “the incel” or “the conspiracy theorist”.
The pity of it is that The Hunt doesn’t actually really need this political component. It’s a very effectively made thriller. In particular the opening sequence which plays with audience expectations regarding protagonists. The action sequences are brutal and very affecting. This causes a sense of tension that permeates the entire film. Betty Gilpin is a compelling lead but because the director wants to get away with a third act twist regarding her character she remains largely inaccessible to us for most of the film. And this film, with all it’s mean spirited commentary, needed a relatable lead.
The Hunt would have benefited from thinking harder about it’s intentions or at the very least making them subtext. As an adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game, the class divide will always be an aspect to this story, but by trying to take aim at both sides of the agenda, failing to say anything meaningful about the nature of the modern political divide, and just generally failing to find the humanity of it’s subject, the film is a very effective thriller with a lot of unfortunate baggage.