“The Hunt” (available On Demand) is a movie that has had quite a history, prompting strong opinions well before anyone even saw it.
Originally slated for release last fall, it was controversially pulled from being released during a particularly violent period of shooting incidents in America, though it echoes a theme that dates back the better part of a century to the story “The Most Dangerous Game” — and even as recently as “The Purge” — with people hunting people.
In something of an image change, double Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays the ringleader of an elite group that makes a sport out of abducting and then chasing so-called “undesirables.” The main target is portrayed by Betty Gilpin, of the streaming series “GLOW,” and it truly is a matter of the survival of the fittest … not to mention the fastest. However, some of the would-be victims eventually show that they have the stamina and smarts to turn the tables on those who are after them.
Co-written and co-produced by Damon Lindelof of “Lost,” “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen” television fame, “The Hunt” has a certain political undercurrent, but it’s also a bare-bones action tale with graphic violence to spare. And by the time the principal characters on either side engage in prolonged man-to-man combat — actually, make that woman-to-woman — it’s about as raw as such a tale gets. (And it must be added that the physical trainers certainly earned their paychecks for that scene, though Swank is known for staying in prime condition anyway.)
“The Hunt” is admirable in the sense that it doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is. It’s a slightly higher-brow exploitation movie, and it’s right in the wheelhouse of producer Jason Blum, who has built his reputation on high-concept suspense and horror films that he delivers to studios very economically. For “The Hunt,” Swank likely came at a price higher than what he normally pays, but he balanced the budget by populating the rest of the cast with familiar character actors.
Even if you’re not generally a fan of such pictures, “The Hunt” is hard to take your eyes away from. But go in knowing that, just as the characters experience over the course of the film, it’s probably going to hurt.