Betty Gilpin makes The Hunt a snarky B-movie worth watching

Crystal (Betty Gilpin, right) with a border agent (Yosef Kasnetzkov) and refugees in "The Hunt," directed by Craig Zobel.
Crystal (Betty Gilpin, right) with a border agent (Yosef Kasnetzkov) and refugees in "The Hunt," directed by Craig Zobel. /

The horror-comedy The Hunt isn’t as clever or controversial as it thinks it is, but Betty Gilpin’s committed performance makes it solid B-movie fun.

As the marketing proudly proclaims, Craig Zobel’s horror-comedyThe Hunt almost didn’t get a theatrical release. The film was shelved by Universal Pictures in September after widespread criticism (including tweets from President Trump) claimed that the movie was inflammatory, damaging, and unworthy of release. However, the controversy blew over, and a few months later, a new viral marketing campaign popped up touting The Hunt  as “the most talked about movie of the year that no one has actually seen.”

Now that it’s in theaters and we have seen it, however, we can’t help but feel like all of that chaos was overblown. Sure, The Hunt certainly touches on some controversial subjects, but it isn’t anywhere near as gutsy or upsetting as it (or its critics) think it is.

For those confused about why it was so “controversial” it was temporarily pulled from release, The Hunt tells the story of a group of liberal elites who drug, kidnap, and, yes, hunt a group of conservative Americans for sport. It’s The Hunger Games meets Animal Farm, but lacking the deft writing or cleverness that made the other two such successes.

It’s also incredibly surprising that the film faced such criticism from our Republican President, considering the protagonist is a conservative, and the villains are the liberals. Anyone who paid attention past the film’s logline is immediately able to recognize that it’s in no way glorifying or celebrating the killing of conservatives.

For just how much fuss was made over The Hunt, it’s surprising how by the numbers of a film it is. The movie is your standard battle royale film with a shiny coat of politically charged paint on top. It follows the journey of Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a woman who wakes up in a field unsure of where she is, but who is able to use her survival skills and combat abilities to navigate the treacherous environment and make it out alive.

The premise is eye-roll inducing, and the film often gets too lost in its own metaphors to figure out what it’s actually trying to say. It’s too stupid of a film to take seriously, but not stupid enough to treat as a pulpy critique or parody, so it results in the tone fluctuating wildly. There’s certainly some great quippy moments (and a few awesome lines, most of which are poking fun at modern social tendencies) but the film’s constant jabs at “PC Culture” feel like low-hanging fruit which get tiresome quickly.

There is one part of this movie that elevates it, however, and that’s Betty Gilpin. Gilpin’s performance is magnetic — simultaneously tragic and hilarious — and she singlehandedly makes the film worth watching. Crystal is the kind of protagonist who feels like she could have a place among the ranks of greats like Ellen Ripley and Furiosa, if only she existed in a better film. Crystal is simultaneously the predator and the prey; although she’s fiercely intelligent, she constantly has her hackles up like a frightened animal. And Gilpin is entirely believable as a simple Mississippi woman who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Also turning in a strong performance is Hilary Swank, who plays the film’s villain, Athena. Although her character is considerably more hokey and annoying (by no fault of Swank’s — it’s entirely due to the poor writing), she still makes for an entertaining villain. Athena and Crystal’s final battle is really something to behold, filled with interesting choreography and interspersed with quippy dialogue.

On the whole, the film is remarkably well paced. Although it does beat audiences over the head with its ideas, the plot moves quickly and we never found ourselves glancing at our watches, wondering when it would be over. While The Hunt is not as clever or as controversial as it seems to believe, there’s enough entertainment value between Gilpin and the gore to keep you satisfied until the credits roll.

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Have you seen The Hunt? What’s your favorite controversial movie? Sound off in the comments below.