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‘The Hunt’: Social justice warriors shoot to kill in a ham-handed satire

Despite the provocative premise of liberal elitists hunting deplorables for sport, the movie is basically easy jokes and ho-hum splatter.

Combat veteran Crystal (Betty Gilpin) fights back when she becomes a target for sadistic elitists in “The Hunt.”
Universal Pictures

Just before a stereotypical elitist takes out a stereotypical “deplorable” in “The Hunt,” the elitist cries out:

“Climate change is real!”

Bam. Goodbye.

In the context of this obviously satirical, gruesomely violent and mostly ham-handed action/comedy, that punch line is a mildly funny putdown — not of the victim, but of the killer, an unhinged maniac who justifies first-degree murder on the grounds he’s smarter, more enlightened and morally superior to his prey.

“The Hunt” isn’t an equal opportunity offender when it comes to skewering caricatures on opposite ends of the political spectrum. In fact, it’s the left-of-center characters who are the unquestioned villains.

To be sure, far-right characters are largely depicted as narrow-minded, bigoted and stupid, while the coastal elites come across as smarmy, hypocritical, self-satisfied, politically correct jerks—so on that level, we could call it a tie.

But the elitists are the ones who have kidnapped, drugged and gagged a specific group of right-wingers so they can drop them onto private grounds and start hunting them down. I’d say that makes them, oh, about a thousand times worse than their intended targets.

As you might recall, “The Hunt” was originally scheduled for release last fall — but when the trailer was released last summer just after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, some in the conservative media railed against it (without seeing the entire movie, of course), and President Trump tweeted, “Liberal Hollywood … likes to call themselves ‘Elite,’ but they are not Elite … The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, then try to blame others?”

Universal scratched the September release plan, and “The Hunt” is only now reaching theaters. (The filmmakers say no changes have been made to the content of the movie.)

Sticking to my policy of waiting to review the movie until after I’ve actually seen the movie (I know! Crazy!), I can report there’s nothing in “The Hunt” indicating even the slightest hint of attempting to “inflame and cause chaos” (hardly a surprise), nor is it some kind of morally bankrupt, sick-wish-fulfillment movie designed to have the audience cheering for the elites who are on the hunt.

The story is actually told from the point of view of the intended victims — in particular Betty Gilpin’s Crystal, a combat veteran from Tennessee who becomes the Detective John McClane of this survival story, demonstrating an impressive capacity for quick thinking and resiliency as she not only defends herself but starts picking off the enemy, one by one.

Early in “The Hunt,” we see a group text thread in which there’s a reference to “The Manor,” and one member says, “Nothing better than going to The Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables.”

This is a reference to an alt-right conspiracy about a group of wealthy, lefty elitists who own a manor on remote grounds in Vermont — where they regularly get together to sport-hunt bigoted right-wingers who have expressed their hateful views and/or conspiracy theories on podcasts, at rallies, in online rants, etc.

Of course, “Manor-gate” is just the figment of paranoid imaginations — except of all of sudden, we’re in a field somewhere, and liberals are indeed taking aim at their prey.

Chased as prey, a kidnapped man from Staten Island (Ike Barinholtz) seeks help from gas station owners (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) in “The Hunt.”
Universal Pictures

The targeted group includes a homophobe (Kate Nowlin) from Wyoming; a Florida thug (Sturgill Simpson); a guy from Staten Island (Ike Barinholtz), and a socialite type in yoga pants (Emma Roberts). There’s not a whole lot of character development going on here, beyond one of the so-called “deplorables” occasionally spewing out something about “the globalist cucks who run the Deep State.”

Meanwhile, we know even less about the largely unseen elitists who are holed up in a bunker, taking potshots at the enemy. (They gave their intended prey a crate filled with guns and knives, just to make things a little more competitive.) When we do drop in on them, they’re talking like characters in an “SNL” skit about overly sensitive elitists.

One man says, “Guys!” to a room that includes a woman and then berates himself: “I gendered it.” When a character puts on a kimono, he’s quickly chastised: “That’s appropriation!”

Eh. Some of the jokes are clever, but more are too easy and broad. And while “The Hunt” is occasionally insightful in its observations about the dangers of spreading misinformation in today’s world, it’s primarily a hard-R horror/comedy film, with blood and guts spilling all over the place and some drive-in movie type “kills” clearly designed to elicit delighted groans mixed with laughs.

Nothing incendiary to see here, folks. Just a mostly forgettable, slow-season splatter movie.