I was 11 years old when my father, a former U.S. Marine and a creative writing teacher, gave me a copy of an early-20th-century short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” It was first printed in Collier’s magazine. It ranks among the most popular short stories ever written, and won the prestigious O. Henry Award when it was published.
The premise: a big-game hunter falls off a yacht and finds himself on a desert island, where he is hunted by a Russian aristocrat. My dad and I loved the story, and it was one of those funny father-son bonds that you fully appreciate only much later in life.
That story popped to mind last year when Universal Studios announced it was releasing a movie called “The Hunt.” The premise of the movie is similar: so-called “elites” get outraged by a misinformation tweet turned media firestorm. They respond by capturing “ordinary Americans” and stashing them on a faraway property before hunting them like game. The film, like the short story it draws from, is a black comedy and a farce.
I was excited to see it, but never had the chance. Last year, Universal Studios and the creators of “The Hunt” pulled the movie’s release in the wake of political controversy and two mass shootings. The media had jumped all over the film. Lou Dobbs called it “sick” and “twisted.” The president tweeted that it showed just how racist Hollywood is. Critics from the left cried foul too, saying the movie encouraged a culture of violence.
The moment dripped with irony. Why? Because no one commenting on the film had seen it. All of them ripped it apart based on a 90-second trailer. They had jumped to conclusions, taken refuge in their tribe, and then gone out with digital pitchforks and forced the film studio and the film’s creators to pull it under pressure.
It turned out that cancelling the film was a marketing windfall. Had Universal wanted to script a better public defense of “The Hunt,” I’m not sure they could have. What finer argument for a political satire than a movie that gets shelved because of the intensity of politics? What better illustration of misinformation than a movie that gets judged because of a misinformed media and political culture?
The studio and the filmmakers announced this past week that the film is coming out in March. I’ve had the chance to see it, and I’m glad it’s coming out. “The Hunt” is an adaptation of an old tale cut for today’s times. The movie gets its jabs in at both sides of the political aisle. It makes fun of “deplorables,” it makes fun of uptight “elites.”
In short, it makes fun of everyone, and in so doing, it gets us all to laugh at ourselves and our politics in a way we haven’t for, well, a few years now.
It’s also a breath of fresh air from Hollywood. I’m a Navy veteran who has worked in the film industry, and I’ll be honest: I often feel out of place. Some of the criticism of this industry as out of touch with the concerns of “everyday Americans” is legitimate. But that’s precisely why a film like “The Hunt” is powerful—because at least it’s self-aware enough to know that and to parody the elites while also lampooning their opposite.
As we enter a year in which the madness on all sides will rise to a fever pitch, “The Hunt” may be the cold shower we all desperately need. My sense is that the vast majority of people will take to the film, earlier criticism notwithstanding.
Here’s why: no matter what our politics are, most of us are pretty sick of politics. It’s infected everything from Thanksgiving dinners to football to our children’s schools, and many are at our wit’s end. We want to press pause on it all; we want to stop hearing about the latest outrage. Those tired of round-the-clock political noise have been given a label: “the exhausted majority,” and it’s for this audience “The Hunt” was made.
The movie is campy and it’s no one’s idea of an Oscar contender, but the studio deserves credit for releasing it in the face of thunderous criticism. In an era of cancel culture and critical tweets, comedy is arguably the last bastion of truly free speech—but as last year’s uproar demonstrated, even that beachhead needs defenders.
“The Hunt” is a fine illustration of what satire is supposed to do: exaggerate something to such an absurd degree that we all get the chance to laugh, cringe, take a breath, and stop to think about the madness. So kudos to the studio and the filmmakers for not giving in.
Scene spoiler ahead.
Thankfully, this movie doesn’t wear its moral message on its sleeve. I can’t imagine its creators want people to think of it as some kind of election year polemic. In fact, we know they didn’t want that, because the movie was supposed to debut last year. Besides, how serious could this film be when one of the most memorable scenes involves Hillary Swank scraping an eyeball off her heel after a fresh kill? No, this is theater of the absurd at its apex—a way of bothering everyone so that everyone gets bothered by what’s going on.
That’s precisely why it’s the perfect film for the year ahead. Short of moving to a cabin near Walden Pond and throwing your phone in the nearby water, there’s no way to escape the hysteria. But maybe, just maybe, “The Hunt” will give you and your fellow exhaust-ables a 90-minute break from the chaos—and enough of a laugh to make you think.