It’s hard to find a movie that has drummed up more bullshit controversy than The Hunt. The goddam US president took to Twitter to shout about … really the opposite of what the film is trying to say. It’s a film about Coastal Liberal Elites hunting “deplorables” because they don’t consider them human, and the camera follows the deplorables—they’re not the bad guys here. Left and right were both furious at it for different reasons.
That confusion didn’t come out of nowhere, and I think The Hunt lacks a certain clarity in its satire that could’ve otherwise made it great. This might ruffle a few feathers, but I think its closest comparison point is 2017’s Get Out.
They’re both satires of a certain flavour of ostensibly left wing person who uses the language of justice without any of the substance; a person who cloaks their evil in apologies and acknowledgements and appeals to grand ideals but doesn’t stop doing it. One of the film’s best scenes is where Kaluuya’s Chris is tied to a chair, about to have his consciousness overwritten, and the man stealing his body appears on video and apologises and insists that it’s not because he’s black, it’s because he wants his eye.
I’m taking total control of a black man’s body against his will, I could not be enacting something closer to slavery without going out and buying a whip, but it’s not because I’m racist, man. I’m doing it for the art. I really need you to know that, because it’ll make me feel better.
The Hunt aspires to be that cutting but never quite reaches it—it’s too going for the same target but it’s too broad. It could’ve been to class what Get Out was to race. It’s got the right mix of schlock horror and social intent, it’s just … not quite there.
God it comes close though. I spent hours afterwards trying to figure out why Get Out worked and The Hunt didn’t quite, and I think the answer is clarity.
What is Get Out satirising? The consumption and destruction of black bodies by white liberals who profess to know better.
What is The Hunt satirising? White liberals exist and … don’t like Trump supporters? Are smug and like to condescend a lot?
And it’s not like the villains in Get Out weren’t smug and terrible, but it was in service of a very specific point the film was trying to make. It was another twist of the knife, but it wasn’t the blade. In The Hunt, it’s the whole point. “White liberals can be smug” isn’t wrong, but it’s not the sort of substantial observation you can hang a film on. The villains constantly worry that what they’re doing is problematic; the moment where it comes the closest to doing anything with it is when they’re selecting who to hunt and a black man in a cowboy hat appears onscreen. The assembled hunters all shake their heads, then one says “if we don’t have at least one person of colour, it will be problematic.”
That works. They’re talking about murdering somebody and their first concern is the optics. The language is a little blunt, but hey, it does its job. But every other time they do the same thing it’s … just a gag that dilutes that point they’re trying to make. They make the same “liberals worry about being problematic and correct themselves in conversation” joke half a dozen times and only once does it actually hit the mark. They’re just saying it because it’s funny to the screenwriter when liberals talk about microaggressions.
What that does is create a film that’s more interested in saying “lol liberals” than actually exploring why the villains’ mindset is dangerous. The connection between that smugness and their erasure of working class agency and identity is never really explored. I really want The Hunt to be a better film than it actually is: Gilpin and Swank both put in great performances, and the world doesn’t have enough clever satire of the Hope & Change & Drone Strikes callous American liberalism that got us Trump in the first place. It’s a fine distraction, but it could’ve been Get Out for class and its failure to live up to that promise burns.
The point of Blazing Saddles wasn’t “cowboys exist and are funny”. If it had stopped there, it wouldn’t have been satire. It might’ve been a good comedy, but I don’t think it would be remembered so fondly if it hadn’t known exactly why it was taking down cowboys. There’s a toxic myth about American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny being endlessly repeated in cowboy serials and it’s whitewashing an ugly, violent past and helping to support white supremacy is a target for satire, cowboys fart a lot isn’t. It was by connecting farting cowboys to the whitewashed, squeaky-clean image of the Western Serial Cowboy that Blazing Saddles did its actual satire.
The Hunt is very consistent at getting across How The Target Of My Satire Act, but it falls over in trying to connect it to Why That’s Bad. And it’s not a difficult connection to make! They’re hunting humans for sport. They have a callous disregard for human life and they wrap it in the language of social justice to make themselves feel better.
One moment some critics have attacked is 1) as close as I think this film comes to succeeding in its goals and 2) a massive spoiler so I’m gonna let you peace out of the next paragraph if you’re still planning to watch. Alright? Good.
So Gilpin’s character is the wrong Crystal Creasey. She’s a woman with the same name from the same town and the hunters didn’t bother to check, and now just some random woman with no Trump affiliation wrapped up in all this. The villains are pumping millions of dollars into their private kill ranch but they didn’t double-check that they had the right woman, because they saw A Redneck Name and assumed it had to be the same person.
Because working class people are interchangeable to them.
It’s not a plot hole, it’s that the characters didn’t give a shit about the identity of a working class person, and that not giving a shit came back to burn them. There’s your connect: they’re murderously angry not at Deplorables and Trump Supporters but at the working class in general and ultimately it doesn’t matter to them if they harm innocent people if it means harming their enemies. If the rest of the film’d had that sort of clarity, it would’ve been much better for it. Instead, it spins its wheels going “lol liberals sure do talk about global warming” which is like … yeah, sure? If you’re not willing or able to connect why that’s bad (e.g. “liberals talk about global warming a lot then do nothing to prevent it”, “liberals fund Greenwashing initiatives that are actually harmful to the environment but make corporations look like they’re helping”) then that’s not satire, it’s just noise.
Howdy, welcome to the blog. Stick around. I wrote about plot holes and Birds of Prey a while back and people seemed to like it a lot so I guess I’m doing more of these now. I also put our my first novel last year, and it’s currently free on Kindle Unlimited. It’s about a cop racing against time to stop a plague tearing her city to pieces so it’s … currently unpleasantly timely but might be the catharsis you need. Tamsyn Muir called it “a wonderful queer noir fever dream” and she knows quality better than I do. Read it. Please, I need your approval.