Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

SR The Hunt

Hilary Swank, left, and Betty Gilpin battle it out in 'The Hunt' (2020).

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You have to hand it to the publicity department at Universal Pictures. Realizing they have a poorly made, polarizing movie on their hands, they’ve leaned into the controversy that’s dogged the latest horror film from Blumhouse Pictures and run with it. A little background is in order.

Craig Zobel’s “The Hunt” was originally set for release in September 2019. Its trailer, showing “liberal elites” hunting down a dozen conservative “deplorables” with extreme prejudice, caused a firestorm in conservative media circles. Though no one had seen the film, pundits and politicians were calling it “exploitive,” “demented and evil” and “disturbing,” among other things.

Of course, this is the sort of publicity you can’t buy, and Universal was more than ready to unleash the film in theaters to take advantage of and stoke this uproar, to what it hoped would be big profits. Unfortunately, two mass shootings occurred in the week leading up to the film’s release, prompting the studio to show a bit of restraint and delay its release. Capitalizing on the initial uproar, the current poster for “The Hunt” contains quotes from those who had initially criticized it because of its trailer, hoping to reignite the initial sense of outrage to create long lines at the box office.

Unfortunately, less than halfway into this confused mess of a movie, you’re likely to realize that you’ve been played. Far less interesting than the controversy that’s swirling about it, this is a shamelessly exploitative piece of work, sporting a confused agenda that is at war with itself, which may very well be the point. Graphic in its violence and muddled in its politics, “The Hunt,” much like 2014’s “The Interview,” will likely be quickly forgotten, remembered only for the misguided turmoil that surrounded it.

The conflicting approaches and ideologies at play are too numerous to mention. The film begins with a rather jaunty, imperial sounding theme song that suggests a high-brow satire is to follow. That notion is quickly scuttled as the first scene, which takes place on an airplane, shows a drugged, confused man from coach stabbed to death with a pen and high-heel shoe by those in first class. Turns out, this poor guy is one of 12 people who’ve been drugged to the point of unconsciousness and are being flown to an undisclosed location where they will be set loose in a forest-preserve-like setting and hunted down.

We soon learn that these folks, referred to as “deplorables,” are being slaughtered by a group of “liberal elites” who get their kicks wiping out the “rednecks” they deplore. Every hot-button issue debated by the right and left as well as most of the derogatory terms used by each group are bandied about here, as each character takes their turn spouting the most radical view each side has to offer. This is a film of extremes, and as such, neither the hunted nor the hunters come off well, everyone being presented as irrational and immovable in their beliefs.

This may just be the point screenwriters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof are trying to make. Ultimately, the film puts forth the notion that the real culprit in our current culture war is the misinformation dispensed through the media that has so distorted the truth that who we really are and what we actually stand for has become lost. Reacting to extremist news items and personal postings without thinking while assuming the worst of those we oppose has led to a blurring of reality that is destroying us all, an idea supported once we learn what caused this caustic hunt in the first place.

And while there is some merit to this theme, Zobel botches its delivery. He’s much more interested in splattering the screen with gore than crafting a coherent message. I can excuse a bad movie, but the danger that lies here is that in not providing a definitive statement, in the end, all “The Hunt” contains is broad characterizations of people spouting hate that some viewers will use as justification for their own deplorable behavior. Far from an instrument of healing, this film will only cause the divide that separates us to grow.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.