Even before its release, The Hunt aroused considerable controversy. Its initial release date last Sept. 27 was understandably postponed following a spate of shootings in the United States, and its basic storyline – liberals hunting conservatives – piqued the ire of many, including the president, despite the fact that no one had seen even a single frame.

Penned by Nick Cuse and producer Damon Lindelof, and directed by UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate Craig Zobel, The Hunt is now out for all to see – and it’s well worth a look. It’s a punchy, well-paced, pitch-black comedy that brazenly flaunts its outrageous attitude at every turn. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for its intended audience, it’s a winner.

By and large, the film’s satire is even-handed in its approach, gleefully sending up stereotypes as it gleefully – and mercilessly – kills off its characters with gory abandon. Given that the conservative “deplorables,” as they’re referred to, are the underdogs, it’s hard not to have some sympathy for their plight, and there’s a vicarious thrill when resident heroine Crystal (GLOW’s Betty Gilpin) begins to fight back against the so-called “elites.” Another twist is that the climactic battle is between two female characters, and as screen catfights go, it’s one of the best in recent memory.

Taking a page (or two) from Richard Connell’s classic, oft-filmed novel The Most Dangerous Game, to say nothing of the Purge franchise, whose own controversy yielded three sequels and a television series, The Hunt wastes no time getting down to business, and as soon as the credits begin and the opening strains of Nathan Barr’s florid score commence, it should be obvious to all that the tone is going to be light, even if the blood’s going to be heavy.

The Hunt is a piece of entertainment – actually a piece of exploitation entertainment – and it succeeds on that level. Some of the satire is obvious but no less effective as a result, and some of it fairly witty given the context. This is a film with “cult classic” stamped all over it, and the early controversy won’t impede it from reaching that status. Most likely, it’ll accelerate it.

Although her voice is heard and her presence certainly felt, Zobel refrains a long time from actually showing Hilary Swank’s Athena, the mastermind of what conspiracy-theorist bloggers have referred to as “ManorGate.” Smooth and sultry, Swank clearly revels in playing so wicked a character. It’s a neat change of pace for the two-time Oscar winner, and she’s entirely game throughout.

Actually, it appears that all the actors, even those who get knocked off early (some sooner than expected), are having a blast, including Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Jason Hartley, Usman Ally, and Glenn Howerton. And, rest assured, a good number of them do get blasted – sometimes to smithereens. There could easily be a sequel to The Hunt, but to paraphrase a line of dialogue from Die Hard (1988): “They’re gonna need more actors.”

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2020, Mark Burger.

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