The Bloody Carnage of ‘The Hunt’ Works Best When You Can Actually Recognize the Human Beings in the Game

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CREDIT: Universal

Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, Amy Madigan, Ethan Suplee, Macon Blair, J.C. Mackenzie, Wayne Duvall,  Reed Birney, Teri Wyble, Sturgill Simpson, Jim Klock, Usman Ally, Steve Coulter, Dean J. West, Steve Mokate

Director: Craig Zobel

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Pretty Much Every Suddenly Explosive Way to Die That You Can Think Of and A Bunch of Sarcastic Profanity

Release Date: March 13, 2020

At first glance, The Hunt looks like it could be a terrible case of bothsidesism. But in fact, it is actually operating in too much of a valley of extremes to really be about the miscalculation of the scale of political differences. Instead, this is a story of conspiracy theories and misunderstanding blown out of proportion to terrifying, blackly comic heights. In a spin on the ever-popular 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” a group of self-castigating liberals have captured some so-called “deplorables” and set them some loose to be hunted as sport. (Trump’s name is never mentioned, but the use of “our ratf—er-in-chief” makes clear the context we’re operating in.) These marks have been chosen because they’re exactly the sort of people who like to propagate the conspiracy theory that elites who run the world have been secretly capturing and hunting people for years.

The script, credited to Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, operates on the premise of “What if the worst things that political opponents accuse each other in this current climate turned out to be true?” The results, as lavishly staged by director Craig Zobel, would include a baroque series of impalings, short-range shotgun blasts, limbs ripped apart by explosions, and car tires rolling over heads. The mayhem is admirably relentless, but it’s a bit too cartoonish for a movie that wants to be about real characters with genuine pain. The hunted do say some pretty awful things, but hardly enough to justify getting a round of bullets blasted into their brains. And it’s certainly worth noting that since we focus on them and they’re the ones in a state of vulnerability, they serve as our point of identification. Anyone threatened with immediate death suddenly starts to look very, very human, especially in relation to the hunters, who mostly come off like a bunch of caricatures who are prone to tout superficial accomplishments like how Ava DuVernay liked one of their social media posts. For the most part, they do not register as actual people so much as agents of self-parodic vengeful chaos. (At least It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Glenn Howerton, for one, can make a meal out of that task.)

Easily the most human of anyone in this melee is the deplorable played by Betty Gilpin. She’s shifty and resourceful enough to make you wonder if she really deserves punishment of any sort for whatever she’s guilty of, or even if she’s actually guilty of whatever she’s been accused of. The frustration that’s all over her face says, “I don’t care who you are at this point. I’m just going to do whatever I have to do to survive.” That’s kind of the fundamental, elemental appeal of a piece of exploitation like this: just who are we when faced with an outrageous, deadly situation? Too often, The Hunt‘s answer is, “A ridiculous gathering of stereotypes,” but often enough, its alternative answer is “It’s complicated. We don’t really know.”

The Hunt is Recommended If You Like: Bloody mayhem, satirical exploitation of stereotypes, mixed social messages

Grade: 3 out of 5 Deplorables

Movie Review: ‘Little’ Squanders Its ‘Big’-In-Reverse Premise on Too Much Broad Comedy

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CREDIT: Eli Joshua Adé/Universal Pictures

Starring: Marsai Martin, Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Justin Hartley, Tone Bell, Mikey Day, Luke James, Rachel Dratch

Director: Tina Gordon

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for An Adult Woman Trapped in a Child’s Body Trying to Drink and Flirt Like an Adult Woman

Release Date: April 12, 2019

There is a creepy subtext to high-concept comedies about kids fantastically becoming the adult version of themselves. But the likes of Big and 13 Going on 30 avoid being actually creepy films by choosing to sidestep those implications. However, the fact remains that their main characters are children in adult bodies who find themselves in situations that could very well turn sexual. Physically, they may have magically become mature, but emotionally they remain the same, so ethically it’s all sorts of confusing. Little reverses the premise, turning the adult into her middle school self, and it also embraces the creepiness, which is confusing in an inside-out sort of way. Is a 13-year-old girl hitting on her teacher morally acceptable when she’s actually a grown woman under a magic spell? Little convinces me that it is, bizarrely enough. The rest of the movie, alas, raises all sort of unanswered conundrums.

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) has become the successful head of a tech company by adopting an I’ll-take-whatever-I-want attitude in response to the bullying she endured for being a nerdy science kid. She may have plenty of cash and a decent amount of respect in an often sexist and racist industry, but all of her employees are deathly terrified of her and she doesn’t have any close friends or family. So for a few days she turns into her younger self (in the form of black-ish‘s Marsai Martin, who came up with the idea and at 14 is the youngest person ever to receive an executive producer credit on a Hollywood production) to get back in touch with what originally fueled her passion in the first place. That’s all well and good, but the shenanigans that happen to get her to that realization are a little more suspect.

A movie like this is obviously not aiming for verisimilitude, but how the characters grapple with the break from typical reality shows how much thought and care did, or did not, go into the story. On that matter, Jordan’s sudden absence from work is too easily brushed off as illness, while the sudden appearance of a little girl is too often not explained at all. (Occasionally, the explanation is that Jordan has a daughter, but that’s only employed when the scene requires it.) Also, the whole school subplot is catalyzed by a wacky misunderstanding involving Child Protective Services and concluded in just as weightless a fashion. What will CPS do when they realize that Jordan has disappeared from school after attending it for only a couple of days and then they discover that the child version of her no longer exists? Little provides no answer, but I wish it would have, because it could have resulted in plenty of hilarity. Depending on your sense of humor, there may very well be plenty of opportunities for you to heartily guffaw during this movie, but instead of mostly being a natural outgrowth of the premise, they mostly feel like a random series of hijinks.

Little is Recommended If You Like: 13 Going on 30, Insecure, Thirsty Women Admiring Shirtless Men

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Donut Trucks