“No sentimentality comrade. War is war” – Athena
The Hunt is one of a small handful of films that have been the victim of bad circumstance. It was scheduled for release just as Covid 19 was becoming big news and a cause for major concern. Social distancing was the buzz phrase, tentpole film releases were being postponed, and the following week, we in the UK were under a lockdown that would last fifteen weeks. So, with those unprecedented events, and the mass shut down of practically everything, the film was left in limbo. It was officially released theatrically, but next to nobody ever saw it until now, its home video release on DVD.
But even before fate took a hand, The Hunt was the subject of controversy. There had already been a postponement in its release (some films just can’t catch a break). Originally set for a September 2019 worldwide release, Universal pulled it after a spate of shootings in America in August of that year, which is fully understandable. Even U.S. President Donald Trump took a swing at the film, which in retrospect probably gave it a publicity boost that money just can’t buy.
All of this, plus a cover article in Fangoria magazine was making the film more and more irresistible to horror movie fans like myself, despite the trailer being somewhat lacklustre and the scant synopsis making the film sound like a retooling of a film I’d seen many years ago. So what’s the deal? What’s so bad that the establishment, up to and including the President of the USA are upset about the film?
Well, there’s an underlying political and social satirical theme running through the movie. It has been rumoured (and denied) that an abandoned title for the film was Red State Vs Blue State. Whether that’s true or not, if that HAD been the film’s title, I doubt I’d have seen it. It’s too politically charged for my apolitical taste. But in a way, it’s an accurate descriptor of the film’s plot. I guess you can play up the political message woven through the fabric of the film’s plot if you so choose and see elements of whatever political mantra you choose to follow, and that’s fair enough. Some of the messaging is pretty on the nose, but the politicisation of a horror movie trope is not what I’m here to do. So, I’m leaving the rights and wrongs of politics to those who are more expert in these matters than I am. I’m dealing with it as a horror movie.
With that in mind, there’s not a great deal that’s new in horror these days, and as I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen a film that was a precursor to this many years ago. Back then, it was called The Most Dangerous Game, filmed in black and white in 1932 by RKO Pictures and starred Fay Wray. It concerned a big game hunter who, if memory serves, had hunted just about every kind of wild animal and all that was left was to hunt down humans who he’s trapped on a remote island. (Out of curiosity, I’ve located and bought a copy of that film and am awaiting delivery. Keep an eye on Cult Corner.)
In The Hunt, we’re faced with a broadly similar plot. A bunch of rich elites have abducted twelve ordinary people and set them free on a huge estate with the intention of hunting them down as game. That’s the plot – and from that it’d be an easy and mistaken assumption to make that there’s no room for subtlety or cleverness of story telling here. And you’d be wrong.
There’s an undercurrent of black humour here, though it isn’t a comedy. The tone is a lot like last year’s Ready or Not (another film with the rich hunting the poor, this might be a new sub-genre) in that the violence we see is pretty extreme, to the point that I’m honestly surprised it got away with a 15 certificate. The effects of gunshot impacts on a head are seen in closeup, with large chunks of cranium blown away in close-up, along with stabbing, impalings and a kitchen fight that rivals the one in Tarantino’s Kill Bill pt. 1.
The film’s tone is set up in the first scene, set on a private jet – and it’s an attention grabber. The next scene has a group of strangers waking up, out in the open. None of them has a connection to any of the others, all are gagged with a device that’s padlocked and there’s a large crate.
Inside the crate, there’s a selection of firearms and knives, along with the key to the gagging devices. Then, the shooting starts and we’re off into a whirlwind melee of violent death that involves guns, grenades, crossbows, knives, mines traps and duplicity.
We’re led to believe that certain cast members are the central characters, only to have them shot of blown away just as we’re buying in to the character. Then the emphasis turns to someone else and so on. We literally don’t know who, if anybody is going to make it to the end of the film and the cast dwindles down.
Is there an overall message? Yes, I guess so – there are many of them, but again, ignoring the overt political ones it’s a cautionary tale about being careful what you post and believe on the internet. (And of course, hunting human beings is bad – they fight back)
It’s a film that adds to my belief that we’re living in a resurgent time for proper horror films. Ones made with a knack for surprising the audience I don’t mean surprising them with a slam closeup and a loud noise like the Conjuring films, which have nothing else to offer and are ultimately tiresome and annoying – but by employing plot twists, killing off people that you’re beginning to be fond of, blindsiding you with something you never saw coming.
Universal and Blumhouse are at the forefront of this, having already this year dazzled and un-nerved us with their remake of The Invisible Man. Films like The Grudge, Ready or Not, Unfriended, It Follows and Happy Death Day are showing us that there’s still some originality out there, and visionary directors who are determined to keep horror alive by giving the genre satisfying new twists and turns.
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