GREG'S GRADE: C
Late last summer, there was an awful lot of fuss — led by the president — over a movie almost no one had seen. So, in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Universal Pictures bumped "The Hunt" — in which a group of liberal elites gleefully slaughters a bunch of right-wing conspiracy theorists — from its September release until now. As if any time in a presidential election year would be less politically charged than six months ago.
It turns out, though, that all the furor and controversy was wildly overblown. While "The Hunt" works marginally well as a wicked little action-thriller, its satire skewers both sides of the aisle without mercy and is as heavy-handed as it gets.
The hunted, drawn in every red-state stereotype you can think of, wake up, gagged, in a clearing in what they're led to believe is Arkansas. A crate full of firearms awaits them, but as soon as they open it, their hidden captors open fire and the body count starts climbing.
Director Craig Zobel, and writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse have some devious fun playing against our expectations, offing a handful of would-be heroes — try not to get attached to Emma Roberts or Ike Barinholtz — before settling on the deadly resourceful Crystal (Betty Gilpin of Netflix's "GLOW") as their protagonist. For her, it eventually becomes more about revenge than survival.
Gilpin creates an interesting character in Crystal. Her facial expressions, body language and calm, deliberate manner suggest a history, a complicated past that this movie, with its breakneck pace, has no time to explore. With the hunters taking on various roles in their elaborate game, Crystal never can be sure anyone is who they say they are; therefore, she trusts no one, an attitude that does not seem new to her.
While most are caricatures, it's clear we're meant to side with the hunted. The hunters are total buffoons, wearing kimonos, eating caviar, arguing over whether the proper term is "African American" or "black," and recoiling in horror when one of their group takes a swig of sugar-laden soda. The most implausible aspect of the movie is that they were able to orchestrate the hunt to begin with.
Clearly, it falls on the ruthless Athena (Hilary Swank) to make things happen. Though her motivation ultimately doesn't make a whole lot of sense, Swank sinks her teeth into the role, and the final showdown between Athena and Crystal is almost worth the build-up.
It's impossible to throw out the political commentary completely when considering "The Hunt," but if you can push it a little to the side, this is a competently staged action movie, suspenseful and with a pair of strong performances.
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout. 89 minutes.
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