The Most Dangerous Game has been adapted for the screen a number of times. The original RKO version is still my favourite, but the idea of people hunting people has been explored more broadly in Hard Target, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games, with varying degrees of success.
The Hunt, directed by Craig Zobel, is the Blumhouse reboot of this story, with everything that entails. Told with the studio’s customary sardonic detachment, it follows a group of strangers who are kidnapped, then set free, only to be hunted by a wealthy elite, and really that’s all the plot I can reveal without spoiling the fun.
And it is a lot of fun. Whatever flaws the film might have (and we’ll get to them in a minute) it’s never boring and often genuinely funny. I think this is intentional, at least I hope it is. Essentially The Purge played for laughs, it never takes itself seriously with characters killed off in gruesome, often comic ways.
A great mix of actors send themselves up gloriously, from Emma Roberts and Justin Hartley, incredibly guileless as the first pair of captives we meet, to Glenn Howerton as the most smarmy socialite you can imagine, essentially playing the extreme version of his character from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Betty Gilpin (Best known for her incredible work in Glow) dominates the film as the ambiguous Crystal. Her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission, and sells the hell out of her slightly unhinged character, whether telling a twisted version of The Tortoise And The Hare or yelling her signature line “Ya Fucked up!”
A lot of people have taken offence at the depiction of right-wing characters getting hunted by a liberal elite. However the satire is incredibly broad, and Zobel takes aim at both sides of the political spectrum; Everyone is a caricature, from the overly woke liberals who happily murder people but balk at harming an animal, to the immigrant hating fanatics. If anything, the irreverence shown to both sides makes it less controversial; it’s not a coincidence that the only character who emerges unscathed is the one who can’t be easily pigeonholed.
There are problems though. The comedy is very on-the-nose, often landing the wrong side of cheesy. Also, while there is shock value in dispatching your cast in creative ways, I would have enjoyed more characters to actually care about. There is zero depth given to the cast, (aside from Gilpin) all of whom are depicted as unlikable idiots, and this does make it incredibly difficult to get invested in the story. We don’t even get a proper handle on Hilary Swank‘s villain until the end, due to the bizarre decision to keep her identity secret for most of the film, a choice that only makes sense if her casting was kept secret, which it wasn’t. Swank is fine, and throws herself into the fight scenes, but it’s still a baffling choice.
What sets The Hunt apart is its chaotic, scattergun sense of humour. It’s difficult to dislike too much but it lacks bite. Similar to You’re Next, and Brian Yuzna’s Society btu without the wit or depth of those films. The final “twist” is perfunctory at best and it feels like the writers just ran out of plot towards the end, so just stuck in an (admittedly great) fight scene.
As a satire on politics or class, this is no Parasite. Where the Korean film was sharp and incisive, The Hunt is a blunt instrument. It doesn’t trouble itself with characterisation or subtlety, paying more attention to audience gratification. This is a guilty pleasure, with a proper B-movie aesthetic despite excellent set-pieces and a winning performance from Gilpin,it’s shallow but a lot of fun.