Title: The Hunt
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Written by: Nick Cuse & David Lindelof
Starring: Betty Gilpin & Hilary Swank
Produced by: Jason Blum & David Lindelof
“…conservatives are too maimed to mock while liberals are too woke to take a joke.”
Reel Talk - The Hunt (2020)
May 22, 2022
by Brendan Da Costa
In today’s politically charged cultural arena, most films and television shows attempt to either cater to one political tribe or the other or stay out of the fray altogether—most fail miserably at both. 2020’s The Hunt, however, doesn’t care to do either and it’s all the better for it.
The Hunt is an unapologetically blunt and unpretentiously barefaced satire that successfully mocks both extremes of the political spectrum. Ultimately, however, conservatives are probably too maimed to mock while liberals are too woke to take a joke. It is, perhaps, only the politically uninitiated who can watch The Hunt and enjoy it for what it is; just a bit of fun.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
The Hunt’s plot centres around a group of “deplorables” as they try to escape the cabal of “liberal” elites hunting them down.
With The Hunt, writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof create a perfect real-world microcosm of a plot in which to imbed their message.
During the film’s climax, we learn that the whole blood-soaked, gladiatorial display of partisan violence that we’ve been watching for the better part of 90 minutes all started—as it almost certainly would in the real world—because of a leaked private conversation… taken completely out of context. Outside, in the virtual hellscape that is social media, that leaked conversation takes on a life of its own, evolving with every “Like”, “Share”, “Comment” and “Retweet” until it emerges from its digital cocoon, a fully-fledged meme.
“The whole murderous affair is the result of a misunderstanding…“
In The Hunt, that meme is the concept of “the hunt” itself; a conspiracy theory, alleging that a cabal of wealthy liberals converge on a remote manor every year to hunt down—literally—and kill a randomly selected group of conservatives… or Trumpers or deplorables or fringe-minority or whatever the hell other pejoratives our elected representatives have been throwing around for the past six or so years.
In what is perhaps the best use of tragic irony in a 21st century film, the meme of the hunt—which the film’s conservatives popularized—becomes all too real (and bloody) when the liberal elites, with nothing to lose and an axe to grind after their “cancellation”, actualize “the hunt” that would otherwise have remained trapped in the matrix. In the words of James Spader’s and Joss Whedon’s Ultron, “Everyone creates the thing they dread. Men of peace create engines of war, invaders create avengers, the hunted create the hunters.” (That last bit, I improvised.)
What makes The Hunt so funny is this very same situational irony at the heart of the film’s plot. Even the most partisan of audience members would have to confess stifling a laugh, knowing that their on-screen avatar could have avoided a shamefully grizzly demise had they simply have learned to not take themselves so seriously. Alas, they didn’t so, in keeping with the traditions of satirical horror, they simply had to die. With any luck, their real-world counterparts—those partisans who have imbedded their identities in their political ideologies—will take note that reality is sliding ever closer to the strictures of satirical horror.
To their credit, Cuse and Lindelof avoid every temptation to take sides. From the liberal perspective, it’s fair to say that the film’s conservatives are to blame for their own plight. They engaged in what amounts to cyber-bullying using misinformation and lies to ruin the lives of good, if not perfect, people. From the conservative perspective, it’s fair to say that the liberals started the cyber-bullying and then drastically overreacted when conservatives pushed back.
The truth that Cuse and Lindelof write between the lines of their screenplay, however, is that there isn’t much blame to go around. The whole murderous affair is the result of a misunderstanding, wedged between neighbours and inflated by social media until the rift is too wide to repair. The real blame—if there is to be any—is with the technology that amplifies our shortcomings as human beings. And we have lots of shortcomings.
The Hunt’s liberals are everything that everyone would say is wrong with “leftists” today. They are arrogant and self-righteous. They are pathologically dysfunctional, socially stunted, intellectually defective and emotionally adolescent. They overestimate themselves in every way and underestimate their adversaries at every turn. They are fundamentally unlikeable.
Similarly, The Hunt’s conservatives are stereotypes of their most extreme extremes. They are hopelessly uninformed, remarkably uncultured, inexcusably misogynistic and startingly, passively, painfully racist. Though not necessarily arrogant, they too are, at times, overconfident and altogether too eager to talk when they should be listening.
Where Cuse and Lindelof might get grief for showing deference to one side over the other is that the sins of the conservatives are sins of circumstance whereas those of the liberals are sins of choice. But, if that offends anyone, it is likely a greater reflection of audience bias than it is of Cuse’s or Lindelof’s. Which brings me to my final point. The Hunt only misses the mark because of the cultural landscape in which it exists.
Conservatives are, indeed, too maimed to be mocked and liberals are certainly too woke to take a joke. Probably the only people who can watch The Hunt and enjoy it for what it is are the many millions of moderates who make up the silent majority. But that’s probably Cuse’s and Lindelof’s intended audience anyway.
It’s not an accident that the film’s protagonist is a civilian in the Culture Wars—a mere bystander that, through no fault of her own, gets dragged into the blood sport that is politics. In this way, if The Hunt wasn’t well-received by audiences, it probably says more about the state of our western democracies than it does about the entertainment value of the film itself.