As is generally true of movies that kick up Controversy In The Discourse, The Hunt is not in the remotest way worthy of that much attention, so I'm not even going to bother recapping all of that. Instead, let's just dive into the movie itself. Only let us dive very carefully, for it is extremely shallow, and we do not want to crack our heads on the bottom.

What if The Most Dangerous GameΒ was a Twitter thread? That's the movie, pretty much, with a couple of scenes on loan from The Hunger Games. It commits one of its worst mistakes almost immediately (or, if you like, two of its worst mistakes, right in a row), clarifying exactly what's going on in a pair of scenes, the first of which has an unseen person checking a text message thread where a bunch of people make merry in joking about how they'd like to hunt "deplorables" to death. Then we find ourselves on a plane, to find out that jokes were in fact serious, and that a group of elite liberals (we know they are elite because they talk about expensive things, we know they are liberal because they scold each other over problematic language) have in fact drugged and kidnapped several people, one of whom wakes up just long enough to get stabbed to death on the elites' plane.

This is fucking terrible. No, not the concept, the concept can go hang itself. This way of getting us into the concept. In short order, we're going to meet the drugged and kidnapped deplorables, waking up on the edges of a field with gags in their mouths, scrambling their way towards a wooden box that's filled with weaponry, and learning shortly thereafter that they are being hunted. That's where you open the movie, of course. That's a freebie. If the unforgivably stupid Hunger Games rip-off The Maze Runner could figure out that this is where you open the movie, then an pro like Damon Lindelof (co-writing the script with The Leftovers and Watchmen staffer Nick Cuse), even given his limitations as a writer, sure as fuck ought to have been able to figure it out (indeed, his limitations are such that I would have thought for sure this would have been his first instinct). Ah! but the thing is, that's only where you start The Hunt if your goal is for it to be a survivalist thriller and mystery centered around Crystal (Betty Gilpin), the sharpest and wiriest of the kidnapping victims. And that should be your goal, because that is by miles and miles and miles the best thing about The Hunt. But if you want it to be a satire, now that's why you might start out by showing us the shadowy liberal elites plotting in their elite way, because you immediately want to start cluing the audience in what the message of the film is going to be. Regrettably, the people who made The Hunt wanted it to be a satire.

And even with that head start, this particular audience member didn't quite follow the message. There are a lot of things this could be: most obviously, a thriller for conservative Republican Trump voters, agreeing with them that they're an embattled population at the hands of smug liberals. This is one of the only things that I'm certain it isn't, given that the film mocks said Republicans almost as heartily as it mocks its NPR-listening killers. So all I can offer is some possibilities: maybe it's a libertarian, South Park-ey "we hate conservatives but we HATE liberals thing", maybe it's centrist "both sides are too polarised" smarm, maybe it's an attempt by liberal artists to make something they think they can sell to conservatives and wildly missing the mark. If this were anti-elitist populism, of either the right-wing or left-wing varieties, it would at least be able to function, but that's the other thing I'm certain that it's not.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't feel the need to bother figuring all of that out, except whatever the fuck The Hunt is trying to say about contemporary America, in its hellishly witless way, it says it very often. There are two movies warring for dominance here, and one of them is this droning, wretched "cultural commentary", though both the word "cultural" and the word "commentary" don't deserve to be besmirched by the comparison. The other is a gory survival thriller with a slasher movie plot structure, and this latter movie I actually liked quite a bit. Hell, this latter movie, I loved. But in order to get to it, you have to sit through a whole lot of the dimwitted satire - it's about half and half between them, I'd say, though maybe it's just that the satiric bits feel like they go on for longer.

At any rate, when the characters stop talking like they learned English from reading Twitter, and the plot focuses more on Crystal's survival instincts than on the ideology of the people trying to kill her - or just when it focuses on watching people die in extremely persuasive gore effects - The Hunt is legitimately terrific at being a gaudy, grotty B-movie. Much of this centers on Gilpin, who is slightly great in a performance for which "greatness" would seem to be entirely besides the point: the narrative functions in part by keeping us in the dark about her backstory, which means that the character has almost no identity or personality beyond the actions we see her perform (I hesitate to make this comparison, but it reminds me in kind, if not in effect, of the way that Linda Hamilton builds up Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day). What makes Gilpin's performance so fascinating is the way that she and director Craig Zobel make use of those actions; it is precisely the result of how Crystal interacts with the world that gives us an insight into her character. I can't think of a better way to describe her than as a deadpan action hero: there's a way that Gilpin underplays her character's action-star badassery with a Keaton-esque stone face that feels less like part of the film's flop-sweaty efforts to be comic, and more like a strategy the character employs to make sure that other people underestimate her. But it still reads as comic - the only authentically, successfully comic material in the whole damn movie. It's not psychological realistic or nuanced, but it is exactly what the film needs in order to have a rock upon which to build itself.

But it's not entirely thanks to Gilpin's performance that The Hunt manages to be an okay movie, on average. Indeed, it takes the film a while to settle on her as a protagonist: the opening sequence is a rather smart bit of violent horror slapstick, in which the film has to keep cycling through protagonists as they die in horrible explosions of viscera. It stops being shocking after the first time, but it never ceases to be impressive at the level of carnivalesque freakshow violence, and that's the other great strength of The Hunt: it's not afraid to embrace a trashy splatterpunk aesthetic that's more about celebrating the fine work of effects artist and makeup designers than it is about unsettling or disgusting us, or placing us into a confrontation with the cruelty and violence of the world. And obviously, "that was hilariously gory" isn't a reaction everybody is capable of having to a movie, but for those who are, The Hunt is quite a satisfying showcase for gruesome spectacle. Better yet, if you're the kind of person prone to be the target audience for that kind of thing, you already have plenty of experience with movies that waste far too much of your time on tedious storytelling bits in between the bloodyletting, and are therefore in the best possible position to cope with how much of The Hunt is insufferable, smug nonsense that is inexplicably confident that it has Something To Say.