The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Going purely off of the definition of the genre, “The Hunt” is, without a doubt, a satire. It uses its semi-horror movie setting and over the top violence to satirize the massive divide between the two political camps that exist in American politics today; the elite, snobby liberals and the down to earth, dirt covered conservatives. Are there people somewhere in between? Who knows, because according to Director Craig Zobel (“Westworld,” “Z for Zachariah”) and writers Nick Cuse (“Maniac,” “Watchmen (2019)”) and Damon Lindelof’s (“Westworld,” “Watchmen (2019)”) new satire, who cares?
While the idea of turning the current debate on American gun control into a film taking the model of the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game” seems novel at first glance, the film doesn’t seem to be about that. Despite the writers citing it as an adaptation of that story, and it having an almost verbatim setup, this kind of an idea is thrown out the window by the time the film starts. It abandoning its original idea doesn’t even crack the film’s top five biggest problems though.
For starters, the film takes far longer than it should to do just that, start. The first 20 minutes flip flop between protagonists until it finally lands on the one who can stay alive the longest, Betty Gilpin’s (“GLOW,” “Nurse Jackie”) Crystal. Her set jaw and country drawl aren’t the least bit convincing or engaging. She resembles the imagined worst-case scenario for female leads for films like “Terminator: Dark Fate” or “Captain Marvel.” She’s just not that charismatic or engaging, speaking with an incredibly quiet growl, with near superhuman levels of foresight, only occasionally spouting out of tone jokes and physical comedy gags. The tonal whiplash that these gags cause might be necessary to just keep audiences awake.
Even if she was a charismatic lead (she isn’t), she isn’t the least bit interesting. She gains the least background and character building in the film, and by the time it’s revealed why, the reasoning is on par with a 10am rerun of “Days of Our Lives.” Its shockingly poor, causing a moment of silence as if the audience is waiting for her to stare at the camera and say “Sike.” She also is apathetic to the events as they proceed, frequently repeating the same line as new information is learned: “I don’t care.”
Now, while Crystal’s character and arc might be the biggest issue, the violence is not far behind. For a film that seems to market itself on its horror/thriller aspects, it’s hard to see annoying being scared or thrilled by the proceedings. What’s here either plays out like a bad episode of “The Walking Dead,” with stilted effects and cheap looking gore, or holds back on the goods, hiding exploding heads behind doors or wide shots. The few moments of gruesome violence that are here are played for laughs, which is incredibly confusing given the film’s messages and leads to its most glaring flaw.
If Zobel, Cuse and Lindelof wanted to make an overly violent thriller, that’s fine. If they wanted to make a satire on American politics, that’s fine too. But mixing the two together seems to have been the ultimate mistake, at least with this execution. Early on there’s a gag about a young woman falling into a pit of spikes, being impaled and being rescued. She is then blown up and falls back in the pit of spikes, this time with her intestines out and her legs missing. She asks a nearby ally to shoot her to put her out of her misery and when he refuses, she grabs the gun from him, calls him a pussy, and shoots herself.
Its genuinely uncomfortable to watch, given that this is a character that we’ve been endeared to so far in the film. Its not possible to laugh at the moment due to the context that she’s being hunted and brutally murdered for no apparent reason, and it’s hard to gather if the moment is trying to make a point due to how incredibly uncomfortable and overly violent it is.
The best way to explain why “The Hunt” fails so spectacularly is to compare it to a longstanding piece of satirical history; Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Swift writes in the piece that, in order to solve Ireland’s issues with a lack of food and money, that poor families should start eating and selling babies. He does include in the piece moments where he describes which cuts of a newborn are the most delicious, but at no point is it ever mistaken for seriousness. “The Hunt” is so concerned with being taken seriously, that it fails to remember that to be an effective satirical work, it has to show how ridiculous its events are.
So frequently the film employs traditional and outplayed horror film violence that it obscures any point that could’ve been made. Also, given that the film spends so much time talking about guns and violence, it’s still baffling that its point isn’t about gun control in any way.
A work of satire should evoke some emotion in the viewer. It should empower those who agree with its points and anger those who don’t. If a film is setting out to be satirical and, when credits roll, the reaction from its audience is the same as its apathetic and droll main character (“I don’t care.”) the satirical elements, and by extension the film, has fundamentally failed. Its virtually impossible to see anyone on either side caring about this hunt. 1/5