by Hope Madden
About a year ago, Universal Studios pulled the release of The Hunt because of the amount of gun violence. Commendable.
Later that year, other studios released Ready or Not—critical darling, but didn’t do great box office. Then Knives Out, which was both a critical darling and box office giant. And, of course, Parasite would go on to win all the Oscars. Even documentary short.
While The Hunt does contain a goodly amount of violence—guns, knives, hand grenades, pens, stilettos, kitchen appliances—it also boasts the one thing that appears to be the universal key to entertainment. It hates rich people.
Director Craig Zobel (Compliance), along with writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (both of TV’s Watchmen and The Leftovers), takes no prisoners as characters take a bunch of prisoners, drop them in a field somewhere and, you know, hunt them down for sport. The film gleefully skewers both the left and the right, often in ways you wouldn’t expect but should.
This is a meticulously structured horror film, the tidy beats allowing the writers to insert surprises that play on your preconceived notions in clever ways. Like Jordan Peele, Zobel proves a nimble manipulator of both horror tropes and social commentary.
I have to think Betty Gilpin was the most disappointed when this film was shelved last year because it is her break out. No more support work as the hot mean chick, Gilpin’s Crystal is the wrong badass to underestimate. The performance is never showy but quirky and genuine, which goes a long way toward increasing believability.
Zobel populates the herd with familiar faces (Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Hilary Swank, Amy Madigan), mainly for sleight of hand. Though most get little screen time, and each is handed a fairly one-dimensional character, both the writing and the performances mine that gimmick for a lot.
Positioned to infuriate everyone in one scene or another, the film is brash and bracingly level headed. It’s violent AF, no doubt, but what it reflects back at us is far smarter than what you might expect. The Hunt is a darkly comedic, socially savvy, equal opportunity skewering and it is a blast.
If you’re looking for something intense and fascinating this week, check out The Hunt, available today. Powerful, understated and devastating, the film looks with startling authenticity at the one accusation that can never truly be shaken. Writer/director Thomas Vinterberg‘s slyly observational approach offers his lead, a magnificent Mads Mikkelson, the opportunity to show his breathtaking range as an actor. It’s a haunting film, one that takes the less-trod approach to the topic and mines it for all it has.
Pair it with something a little different. Director Todd Field followed up his devastating In the Bedroom with a complex, brilliant work about two unfaithful lovers, selfish thirtysomethings and sketchy parents, Little Children. It was the best film of 2006, and among its countless successes is the Oscar nominated performance by Jackie Earle Haley as Ronnie McGorvey, town sex offender. Field’s playful approach to the film gives it a pleasantly off kilter feel, as if keeping the action at arm’s length, but the immediacy and intimacy of Haley’s performance packs a wallop. The scene between him and Jane Adams is brutal perfection.
by Hope Madden
There is one accusation too insidious to ever truly shake, even when it’s unfounded. The Hunt follows the unraveling of one life tainted by that implication.
Danish filmmaker Thomas Viterberg’s restraint behind the camera and the pen allows this quietly devastating tale to unspool at its own pace. It’s November, and the men of Lucas’s small community are daring each other into the freezing lake. Lucas’s best friend strips to nothing and enters, then of course Lucas has to wade in and pull the cramped and drunken buddy back to safety.
Then it’s on to dry clothes and drinking. Later, it’ll be hunting and drinking. It’s all very rustic, charming and masculine, which may be why something feels off when the mild-mannered and deeply decent Lucas makes his way to work at the preschool.
Very slyly, Viterberg creates an atmosphere that separates the masculine from the feminine in a way that hints at a town uncertain of a man who works with children – even if that man is the same truly nice guy you’ve known your whole life.
Viterberg’s observant style picks up casual behaviors, glances, assumptions and choices and turns them into the unerringly realistic image of a small town undone by a rumor of the ugliest sort. He’s aided immeasurably by the powerful turn from his lead, Mads Mikkelson.
For an actor usually saddled with a villain’s role (indeed, he’s currently playing Hannibal Lecter in the TV series), Mikkelson’s reserved and wounded Lucas is a complicated triumph. He won the top prize Cannes awards in acting for a role that proves a breathtaking range.
His work is buoyed by an impressive supporting cast, the gem of which is the chillingly natural little Annika Wedderkopp.
If Viterberg plumbs small town concepts of masculinity to discomfiting effect, what he does with the self-righteous naïveté of upright citizens protecting their young is positively chilling in its authenticity. We watch helplessly as this tiny pebble of an accusation races downhill collecting snow. The quick acceleration of misguided action is breathtaking.
Viterberg seems almost to implicate the audience, because what is the answer? Disbelieve the child?
And if you do believe – would you behave differently?
Small mindedness combines with protectiveness, disgust with suspicion, until a man is no longer considered a man at all but something else entirely. Viterberg’s concern is not simply what happens during the crisis, but whether that crisis can ever finally be resolved. His deliberate and understated storytelling, along with one stunning performance, makes it an unsettling conundrum to consider.