Can You Handle Betty Gilpin’s Bloody, Controversial New Movie The Hunt?

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Warning: This article includes spoilers for The Hunt. It also includes descriptions of violence that may be triggering to some readers.
As the marketing materials have now repeatedly informed audiences, the new horror movie The Hunt is the most talked about movie that no one’s ever seen. Originally slated for release in September of 2019, The Hunt was shelved following the El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH shootings, one of which was an attack on people of color by a white man, and President Trump’s subsequent accusation that the film was racist and inspiring hate against conservatives. The conversation around the film became extremely contentious, with some conservative outlets claiming that the film was simply a romp of liberal elites gleefully mowing down Trump supporters while mocking their beliefs. Concerns that the highly political, highly violent film would strike the wrong chord in the wake of the tragedies and Trump’s comments led its distributor, Universal, to shut down the release indefinitely. Until now. 
The film was set to hit theaters March 13, and it did, until movie theaters shut down to help combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the studio has released The Hunt online (there's even a Twitter watch party with the creators on March 20), which means audiences can see if the claims surrounding it are true from the comfort of their own homes.
Is The Hunt really meant to stoke racist divides? Is it actually about liberals heartlessly hunting conservatives? Is it truly meant to be a bloody excuse to bash one side of our relentless political divergence? Not exactly. Let’s just get into it. 

What Is The Hunt About?

On a base level, The Hunt is actually about a group of wealthy, liberal elites, led by Hilary Swank’s mysterious business tycoon, Athena, hunting conservative people for sport. But it’s actually far more complicated than that. As the description of the film goes, 12 kidnapped people wake up in a field with no idea how or why they got there. They have cylinder gags in their mouths, are given access to a small arsenal of weapons, and within minutes, are being blown up and shot from a bunker in the distance. The hunt is on. 
In the first few minutes of the film, we’re told via a series of text messages that the hunters call these people “deplorables” — a clear reference to Hilary Clinton’s politically inadvisable 2016 presidential debate comment. And as we meet some of them (played by actors like American Horror Story star Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley from This Is Us, and The Mindy Project alum Ike Barinholtz) we learn that they each fit stereotypes of Trump-leaning conservatives, though Trump’s name is never actually uttered. Roberts’ Lululemon-wearing blonde looks like she could be a Tomi Lahren type. Barinholtz’ buttoned-up character holds some controversial opinions about the right to bear arms, but objects when they’re used against him. Later, we meet a podcaster (played by character actor Ethan Suplle from The Ranch and Santa Clarita Diet) who promotes the most outlandish conspiracy theories on the internet, from racist conspiracies to flat earth stuff and the existence of this very hunt. While much of what he preaches is based on little to no fact, the hunt — aka Manorgate — obviously turns out to be real. 
Smack dab in the middle of this political debate turned physical battle is Betty Gilpin’s Crystal, a kidnapped “deplorable” who starts picking off the murderous elites one by one as she makes her way to their leader. While we initially assume she has a political affiliation, as the film goes on, she shows no clear signs of being on either side of this contentious political landscape. The fact that we intially assume she’s pro-Trump because of her accent and Southern roots may force viewers to look inside themselves. And that is the most important thing to remember as you decide whether or not to see this movie. It’s basically what would happen if political debates on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook came to bloody life and our guide was someone who doesn’t really identify with either side. She’s caught in the crosshairs regardless.

How Scary & Gory Is The Hunt?

It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for damn sure. In the first three minutes of the movie, we see a guy get a ballpoint pen in the neck and a stiletto in the eyeball. There is squirting blood, a loose eye still attached to an optic nerve, and so much squelching. It does not get any less bloody from there. At one point we literally see intestines falling out of someone, and the schlocky, B-movie style visual of brains and other expelled bodily fluids are all over the screen from start to finish. 
But if you’re squeamish and still curious about the film, scaredy cats can take solace in the fact that the timing of each violent moment is pretty easy to predict. You always get a clear warning that a jump scare or something bloody is about to go down: Gilpin dramatically cocks a shotgun before she shoots, Athena slowly winds up before using her high heel as an eye-pick, and you hear the pew of a bullet headed towards a character who is about to be toast. It’s pretty easy to figure out when to close your eyes or look down without missing any meaning. It’s harder to escape the squelching though; covering your ears could mean missing important dialogue. 

This Is What Really Happens In The Hunt (Spoilers Ahead)

If you’ve made it this far, you’re either too scared to see The Hunt or really need to know what happens before you commit to buying a ticket. Either way, you’re about to walk away from this very, very spoiled. 
While The Hunt is, on the surface, about liberal elites hunting conservatives they call deplorables, it’s actually more complicated than that. 
First, while the people being hunted fall into conservative stereotypes, and their characters are most certainly mocked, so are the liberal elites. In that way, the film suffers from a little Both-Sides-itis, but that also seems pretty intentional. There is the older white, liberal couple who twitter on about sugar being poison and climate change killing animals because the polar ice caps are melting, only to turn around and ruthlessly murder three of their fellow humans with relish. There’s Glenn Howerton’s Kimono-wearing douchebag (“Cultural appropriation!” calls one of his cohorts) who seems to expect his flight attendant to magically whip up a healthy, Mediterranean meal on a literal airplane because he decided in that moment it’s what he wants. There’s the handsome hipster who does charity work abroad, but presumably only for the Instagram likes and sexual conquests he can gather along the way. No one in this movie is a hero.
Well, almost no one. 
Remember Gilpin’s lead character Crystal? She not only solves the puzzle of why everyone’s being hunted pretty immediately, but she manages to stay out of the political fray. When she and the conservative podcaster run into a family of refugees, the podcaster is ready to kill them because he believes them to be crisis actors. Crystal suggests that these people really are refugees who need help and appears quite sympathetic to their plight. At one point, she bridges a simplistically rendered feminist debate when she’s seconds from killing one of the women on the liberal side: A conservative huntee suggests that Crystal leave her alone because she’s a woman. Crystal turns to the outspoken feminist and asks if she’d like Crystal to go easier on her because of her gender. The woman is caught, and can’t say no, so Crystal finishes her off. Crystal also comes from a military background, a necessary backstory to explain her top-notch fighting skills, and a way for her to bond with another non-political character, a combat consultant hired by the hunters.
When she finally makes her way to the headquarters of this deadly game, she faces off with Swank’s mysterious leader, who takes a moment to explain why this all happened in the first place. In a flashback scene, Athena is let go from her CEO gig because the texts about the Manor, which she claims were just a joke at the time, have gone public. Reddit theories are running rampant and many people fear this disgusting joke among wealthy friends is real; the conspiracy theory referred to as “Manorgate” is born. As a means of protecting the business, Athena and all her friends are removed from their elite positions. Per Athena, only after they lost everything, did she and her friends band together to make the hunt real. They set up in Croatia, targeting specific conservatives based on their online activity (podcasts, Facebook rants, and Reddit threads mostly) and its impact on the Manorgate conspiracy’s amplification. Athena believes that Crystal is one of the redditors whose comments contributed to the rumors, but Crystal keeps trying to tell her she’s got the wrong girl. 
When they finally end their fight, both presumably minutes from death, Crystal insists Athena really does have the wrong gal. Swank’s character dies, killing off the last of the political characters in this wild parable, while Crystal patches her wounds up with a chef-grade crème brûlée torch, puts on one of Athena’s ball gowns, and waltzes with a bottle of ridiculously expensive Champagne onto the private plane that delivered the hunters. Crystal invites the flight attendant that Howerton’s jerk treated horribly to sit down and try caviar for the first time. As the woman gets comfortable, Crystal drinks straight out of the Champagne bottle, proclaiming that it tastes great, presumably referring just as pointedly to the Champagne as she is the silencing of the bloody political battle she’s just survived. 
Crystal’s is the kind of peace we all find ourselves wishing for as we wade through daily political debates. The film takes our world to a bloody extreme, crafting an actual battle out of the conversations we find any time we dive into Twitter threads to figure out why #BernieBros or #MoscowMitch are trending, or check Facebook for some relative’s birthday invite, only to be slapped in the face with a string of comments between two former high school friends typing some variation of “FAKE NEWS” at each other until they pass out on their keyboards. It would seem that this visceral tale is an attempt to give us a brief respite from the fighting, as unlikely as that sounds.
But whatever you make of that conclusion, and whether or not you think it does enough to give true meaning to the film, one thing is clear: It’s absolutely bonkers that this movie actually got made. Writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof are out on a very, very long limb with The Hunt. Now the real question is whether or not its contentious premise will get people to theater to actually hear them out. 
Update: This story was originally published March 13. It has been updated to reflect the effects of COVID-19 on the availability of the film.

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