The attack was as swift as it was brutal. It didn’t matter that they didn’t really know anything about their adversary: What they thought they knew was enough. Death was sudden and gruesome.
No, no, no. I’m not talking about the liberal elites hunting down their “deplorable” quarry in The Hunt. I’m talking about how people responded to rumors of the actual movie last September.
The Hunt was originally supposed to be released on Sept. 27, 2019. Two key factors “killed” the film, at least temporarily. First were two horrific mass shootings in early August (in Dayton, Ohio, and in El Paso, Texas, respectively). The second was the shellacking the film received from some prominent conservatives, including some tweets from a fairly famous Twitter user. Some assumed that The Hunt was a shocking, liberal elite revenge fantasy.
Few had seen the film at that point, of course. Many who had seen it suggested that the satirical horror film was actually taking on those liberal elites more than anybody. No matter, though: Some suggested the backlash was just too great for The Hunt to survive. “I believe this movie will never be released,” Republican strategist John Brabender told ITK.
But anyone familiar with Hollywood horror stories knows that no antagonist is ever truly dead. And so The Hunt shambled out of its open grave and is now in theaters.
So now that we’ve seen it, what’s the movie actually about? Well, technically, it’s … um, about liberal elites hunting down Jesus-loving, gun-toting MAGA-hat-wearing conservatives. But this satire’s own quarry isn’t so easy to pin down. It seems that in this hunt, it’s open season on everyone.
As one of the hunted cowers before his would-be killers, he tells one of them that they should “go to h—.” The hunter tells him that he doesn’t believe in such a place—being a part, he says snidely, of the “godless elite.” That scene is one of a handful of disparaging comments we hear uttered about faith and religion, especially Christianity, by the hunters.
Crystal and Gary, two of the hunted, hop on a train and discover the box car hides a family of apparent Islamic refugees. Gary believes the family are actors (including the baby one carries), and he snidely calls one of them “Muhammed.” When Crystal and Don (another hunted couple) pop a trunk and find a body, inside, Don misuses Jesus’ name in shock and dismay. “Nope,” Crystal says. “It’s this guy.”
Hunters discuss how one of them visited Haiti on a supposed humanitarian mission and got a woman pregnant there. “I hope she was pro-choice,” another hunter quips. We hear more cynicism about the man’s Haiti trip and some more jokes about his, ahem, extracurricular activities there.
Crystal’s top reveals a bit of her torso. An online video has some imagined sexual subtext to it.
Before moviegoers have even warmed up their theater seats, someone gets stabbed in the neck with a pen (blood spurts out of the severed artery) and has his eye gouged out with a stiletto heel. (We see the orbital organ, including the grotesque optic nerve, hanging from the shoe.) And really, it just goes downhill from there.
Someone falls into a pit filled with spikes and is impaled. Two people die via landmine: One essentially evaporates, while the other—or, at least, part of the other—gets hurled 20 or 30 feet away. Someone finds the victim, still living, with just the top half intact; entrails and organs hang out of her torso and waist. She still has the wherewithal to grab a gun and finish herself off, though. Two people are stabbed in the gut with a Cuisinart blade. A man has half of his head disgustingly blown off. (He’s just one of several people who die—often bloodily and gorily—via bullets or shotgun shells.)
Someone is killed after having his throat cut: Blood, of course, sprays cinematically. Another victim is shot with several arrows. (He runs with the weapons still sticking in various parts of his body, though the arrow that pierces his neck finally brings him down.) Someone’s skewered through the middle, but then survives long enough to be shot in the head. At least two people get blown to bits by grenades (though one such death, miraculously, takes place off-camera). Someone’s head is run over by a car. A victim is poisoned via powdered donut. Someone’s body is discovered with a knife sticking out of his forehead. A guy is shot, then battered with a pipe, then shot again. A man dies from some sort of gas. A champagne bottle is broken and used as a weapon.
We see some pretty frenetic fighting, with folks getting punched and kicked and hit in the privates. Someone’s stabbed in the shoulder with what might be a cooking thermometer. Trucks are wired to blow up. Blood spills, sprays and is sometimes literally mopped up. An innocent, surprisingly well-dressed pig gets gunned down.
We read a violent text message string referencing the Manor, where “deplorables” are hunted. We hear a really violent children’s story—a variation on the tortoise and the hare. A bullet hole in someone’s shoulder is painfully prodded.
We hear nearly 90 f-words (including several using the word “mother”) and about 15 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n”, “h—” and “p-ss”. God’s name is misused about 10 times (at least three of those with the word “d–n”), while Jesus’ name is abused another 10 times or so (often paired with the f-word). There’s a reference to the “n-word,” though that slur is not actually spoken. We see a middle finger flashed in a picture.
Someone discusses dealing with their problems through drinking and drugs. A rich guy in an airplane demands some champagne and discusses, at some length, a trio of $250,000 bottles of the bubbly. Someone rescues a bottle of very old champagne from certain destruction.
We hear that someone’s father was a methamphetamine dealer and addict, and that her mother died from a drug overdose. Someone guzzles champagne from the bottle. A couple of people smoke, and one discovers a ruse because she knows the price of cigarettes in Arkansas.
The hunters of The Hunt come across as pampered, inconsiderate jerks. For instance, one taunts the flight attendant serving him—asking her whether she’s ever had caviar (she hasn’t), then asking her to take his away because he just had some “last night.” We hear some debate about whether calling someone “black” is racist (National Public Radio says it’s OK, one says; but NPR is staffed primarily by white people, another counters), or whether wearing a kimono is cultural appropriation. We hear references to several political issues and some hostile (and sometimes profane) references to a certain resident of the White House.
Some of the hunted, though, are painted a bit like the hunters would paint them. Several spout conspiracy theories: One claims to be an expert because he exposes “truth” through his podcast (one with the word “Confederate” in its title) and comes across as fairly racist. Several people are accused of spreading misinformation online.
A woman drops her drawers and urinates by a set of train tracks. A man urinates by a tree.
Satire is hard to pull off in this touchy age of ours. We live in an era of Twitter rage and trigger warnings—some of which may be warranted, perhaps. But it can still have a chilling impact on public discourse and debate. In our society’s laudable desire to call out wrongdoing, some would say we’re tickling an Orwellian-like impulse for “right thinking,” a homogeny of acceptable expression that, ironically, involves very little thinking at all.
The Hunt leans hard into those Orwellian themes, complete with shirt-wearing pigs (a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm). That gives The Hunt a more rightward tilt: The conservative “hunted” suffer their share of abuse in the movie, but it’s the progressive hunters who are most relentlessly (if not always effectively) mocked.
But ultimately, the movie’s not aiming at them, either. The ultimate quarry here seems to is society itself.
The problem isn’t that conservatives are “deplorable” or liberals are laughable: It’s that society as a whole can’t stop divvying them up as such. We (using the term loosely and broadly) look at someone, check a series of boxes based on how they look and talk and dress and vote and assume that we know them. The fact that so many people in this movie aren’t exactly who they seem appears itself to be a meta-statement about our culture today.
Those of us who call ourselves evangelical Christians understand how “judgey” the culture can be: We’ve been judged plenty. But let’s face it: We can easily judge those who don’t share our convictions just as quickly, and just as harshly.
Of course, there’s another irony lurking here: As a movie critic, it’s actually my job to be judgmental. But because I’ve spent plenty of time with this particular movie—I sat through the whole thing, in fact—I feel that I’m not rushing to judgment.
Whatever point The Hunt may want to make, or whatever value it might hope to have, is pretty much obliterated by its violence, just like so many of its characters. The blood and gore here are meant to be shocking and, at times, even funny—but instead they’re just gross. And that’s a strange and undercutting dichotomy in a film that encourages us to treat one another as people, and then treat its own people like so much meat.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.