Damon Lindelof’s satire arrived with many presumptions made of its content – some accurate and some way off – and typically inept “sensitivity” to public events (if you aren’t cynical about mass shootings – and Lindelof clearly isn’t – then the picture would surely be upsetting, or alternatively influential, depending upon what the studio thinks it’s responding to, whenever it was released).
What The Hunt is, though, is your classic Hollywood reductivism in full effect, redefining the world through the limiting prism of the dominant (liberal) paradigm while virtue-signalling (if you want to call it that) that it’s an equal-opportunities attack on all (but hey, lest we forget, South Park always has first dibs on such Tinseltown-sanctioned cynicism). The picture’s woke-critique is negligible because it perfectly overblows the premise, while its “conservative” hero turns out to be nothing of the sort (so excusing Lindelof and Nick Cuse of sleeping with the enemy). She is, in fact, simply affirming the industry’s current favourite go-to: the Mary Sue.
Don: How did you know he was lying?
Crystal: Because everyone is lying.
Including Damon Lindelof. Don’t get me wrong, I think Lindelof’s a talented guy – many who have seen Prometheus and experienced the last season of Lost do not, I hasten to stress – but the more he feels the need to address politics directly, the shallower his capacities reveal themselves. Whether he buys it or simply espouses it, what he’s feeding the proles in The Hunt simply serves to underpin rather than challenges Hegelian dialectics, even when he’s “critiquing” both sides. That he overtly uses Animal Farm as a reference point evidences how constrained and enclosed his thinking is. There shouldn’t be any expectation otherwise, of course, regardless of whether he went unchallenged by the suits for his screenplay; the reason he went unchallenged is because The Hunt isn’t really challenging anything, aiming for soft targets on both sides of the spectrum and so flunking the “daring” and “provocative” test, whichever way you cut it.
The movie takes its cues from the likes of The Running Man and Battle Royale, and wayyyy before them, Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game. Most recently, The Cabin in the Woods, from cancelled Joss Whedon – the sort of guy occupying very similar lofty-populist, painfully-politically-correct territory to Lindelof, albeit the latter lacks vocally discontented co-workers – delivered a supernatural take that also lent itself to a reading of an essentially predatory realm in metaphysical terms. In The Hunt’s scenario, Lindelof and Nick Cuse – son of Carlton – posit a group of liberal “elite” (the movie shows them to be nothing of the sort, one of Lindelof’s many dodges) kidnapping and hunting to the death a selection of right-wing types who have incurred their wrath. These liberals are, naturally, incredibly progressive and careful in their language, while showing through their thoughts and actions utter hatred and contempt for less enlightened humanity. Clever, eh?
But these “elite” are also not culpable until they are. Lindelof presents this as a slippery joke (“You wanted it to be true so you decided it was. This was your idea” accuses Hilary Swank’s Athena Stone of the implied crimes of her fake-news accusers and ruiners of her life). But in so doing, he renders his premise trite and ineffectual. He and Cuse overtly invoke Pizzagate in their Mansiongate premise, while following the mainstream line of exonerating the former in their text (albeit, to transpose Lindelof’s premise literally, those “falsely” accused in the former case would then be inspired to actually go and do what they’re accused of). Cuse attested “the thing that we kept finding most interesting was Pizzagate. It’s really amazing as a story, because the further you get into it, the more amazing details there are to it”.
And yet, somehow, despite these “amazing details” – doubtless he’s referring to all those entirely coincidental code-word emails, entirely non-existent basement and entirely disgusting artwork – they were persuaded there was nothing in the story. Another example might be James Gunn and his “off-colour” jokes and attestations on home video footage. Would it be surprising if he went all Super or Slithered all over those who condemned him (again, assuming there was no smoke with the fire)?
Not only do Lindelof and Cuse pussy out of their conspiracy premise – there’s no hunting children in the Black Forest here; they aren’t going full Eli Roth on their material – and in so doing “bring justice” to a few disparate high-earning blue staters, they also completely sidestep the transgressive idea of fashioning themselves a redneck, Trump-voting protagonist. But again, how could we expect Lindelof ultimately to do otherwise, as a self-identified “white, cisgendered, hetero male”?
Swank’s Athena “cancels” Gilpin’s Crystal without trial or due process – she kidnaps the wrong Crystal, and instead of the redneck she thought, discovers an educated southern girl who has even read Animal Farm. Indeed, as noted above, Crystal is your archetypal Mary Sue, astonishingly capable and proficient, overcoming everything thrown at her. A slim, photogenic war veteran who can deal with anything thrown at her and outsmart anyone in the room (or Eastern European country). Crystal having been in Afghanistan, if anything, makes her even more Mary Sue-ish; instead of a vampire slayer, she’s a mythical super veteran. A super soldier.
Such stunning skill sets are not in themselves so outlandish in the action genre (if we’re talking the Arnie or Stallone, as opposed to the vulnerable John McClane). But in conjunction with the fully trained-up head-girl Athena, Lindelof can be found self-identifying as fully on board the woke train and applying current Hollywood ground rules on gender and equality; women are better than men, not only in and of themselves, but in terms of lethal prowess, so usurping the traditional gender rules of the action genre wherever possible. Indeed, refashioning women as men (which is the real impulse of this Hollywoodisation, lest we are in doubt) comes predominately from men, prodding and pushing women towards the new way to be as the current stage of the NWO plan (if Lindelof was really smart, he’d have self-reflexively mentioned this). “John Wick in a Nancy Meyers movie” indeed.
When Lindelof draws attention to the gender roles (or tropes), they’re back-handed. So violence against women is refracted through the lens of traditional southern courtesy: “Hey, miss. Do you think you should be afforded mercy just because you’re a girl?” asks Crystal, before blowing her brains out. Much to the horror of Don (Wayne Duvall). How much more daring would hit have been had Lindelof truly baited the trap, made his hero everything he personally disassociates from but someone who is nevertheless in the right in the context of the circumstances he presents? But he couldn’t do that. So he cops out.
All of this is so much inconsequentiality, however, per the basis of Lindelof’s basic position. You see, he doesn’t believe in conspiracies – or says he doesn’t, which is the key part to remember. Thus, the content of The Hunt is overridingly informed by such denialism, whatever he may seem to be doodling between lovingly captured political polarisations. The validity of the conspiracy hypothesis – any conspiracy hypothesis, as Tony Blair once espoused – becomes “we use belief as a coping mechanism”. As a consequence, The Hunt’s purpose is to rationalise and therefore devalue any integrity the conspiracy theory has. Such fictionalisation is exactly Hollywood’s intent. Does Lindelof really believe “conspiracy theory is an emotional coping mechanism for the world”? Has he had both his shots? He’s a clever guy, but is he so clever that he’s disappeared up his own bespectacled asshole? He draws the most by-the-book (and therefore Psychology 101) full stop under the conversation:
It’s actually more comforting for us to believe that there is an Illuminati controlling everything, because the truth is much more unsettling, which is: it’s chaotic, and sometimes really bad things happen to really good people. Sometimes lone nutters assassinate presidents, but it’s easier for us to believe that they were a pawn in a scheme, because that gives us structure and it makes us feel sort of more comfortable in this weird way.
Obviously, he’s read his Jon Ronson, who has investigated this kind of thing and, as a respectable mainstream journo, has affirmed it to be the case. And to be fair to Lindelof, as noted above in respect of wokeness, he really couldn’t say anything else. Not as someone who wasn’t going to be damned as a fringe nutter, the next Randy Quaid (somehow, however, his colleague and co-writer Robert Orci has managed to get away with being a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Or perhaps it’s no coincidence talentless hack Alex Kurtzman is getting all the work right now).
This, to a greater or lesser extent, is where Hollywood always comes from. Even one of the best conspiracy movies of the last few decades, Enemy of the State – complete with its satellite-lore porn – corrals the architects into a rogue government operation, whose bringing to book sees order restored. I mean, sure, there are still some – too many – who believe, in the post plandemic world, that life is chaotic in just the way Lindelof sets out, with nefarious germs poised to strike randomly, but his “comfort” blanket rationalisation is the most facile and learned of all attacks on conspiracy theory (and fair’s fair, it’s remarkably effective, as it’s cited by almost anyone who has “looked into” the subject and emerged affirming the status quo).
Staten Island: We’re getting goddam hunted.
Ma: But you all have guns.
Staten Island: Yeah, to defend ourselves.
The above, in concert with Athena’s “You started it”, is a prime example of Lindelof’s ham-fisted satire. The back and forth he and Cuse are engaging in, and their mealy-mouthed, middle-of-the-road “cancel culture is bad but sometimes people deserve cancelling and sometimes they don’t”, is entirely pedestrian. It’s the kind of party-line position that leaves him smiling vacuously at his own cleverness just before the cull.
Lines like “I don’t believe in hell. As you so eloquently put it, I’m a godless elite” and “For the record, asshole, climate change is real” – obviously not coming from a real elite, so obviously they don’t actually know, but it certainly sounds like Lindelof’s authorial voice of God, and certainly would be in a Whedon screenplay – are as lacking in bite as the reverse (“He probably uses the n-word… on Twitter”; “It’s perfectly fine to call him black again”; “I’m sorry. I gendered it”; “If we don’t have at least one person of colour in this, it’s going to be problematic”).
Some might suggest even mentioning the idea of crisis actors in a Hollywood movie is daring, particularly when the one mentioning it (Don) is proved right (kind of). But Don also asserts “So? There are crisis babies” and most damningly “I have podcasts. I’ve been exposing these people”; the icing on the cake that he is objectionable at his core is the Mad Mel mustering “Sayonara, sugar tits” (Cuse and Lindelof doubtless high-fived when they came up with that zinger). Crystal spends much of her time in Don’s company, but she is not like Don. In fact, Lindelof scrupulously avoids lending her any clear political opinion (you know, because Mary Sue).
On a straightforward filmmaking level, The Hunt is more than proficient. I liked Zobel’s last movie, Z for Zachariah, and he delivered some of the series’ best work on several of The Leftovers’ best episodes. Which doesn’t excuse the copious use of digital blood here, including digital head explosions (Not the sort of thing that usually annoys me very much, but when it’s this obvious). The performances are decent, although only Gilpin really stands out. As soon as Emma Roberts appears centre stage in the first few minutes, you know she’s going to be the Janet Leigh early kill.
There’s a Whedon-esque larkiness to these dispatches that doesn’t really serve the overall tone, however, since they emphasise that The Hunt isn’t seriously attempting to satirise its targets or get under the viewer’s skin. Compare it to something like Straw Dogs, and it takes about the safest stand imaginable. Lindelof even ends with a Dusty Springfield number; The Hunt lives in the same universe as Lost’s church. It’s likely somewhere adjacent to Athena’s kitchen.
Of course, Lindelof has the cheek to critique woke while having made the wokest series of recent years in Watchmen, or Wokechmen. So woke, it ended up choking on its woke: “The most dangerous people are the people who identify as woke, because it’s not a permanent state that you achieve, right? It’s a practice”. Perhaps, Damon, the most dangerous people are those who delude themselves that they aren’t woke, when really, they are?
Regardless, The Hunt is an attempt at disguising an actual slaughter of conspiracy culture, its motives and adherents beneath a critique of cancel culture’s excesses and MAGA hat wearers’ least appetising affinities. The elite in The Hunt aren’t really elite, because Lindelof doesn’t believe in the elite (he says). He’s much better at being non-commitally metaphysical than woke-stirringly socio-political. Which is a problem, since he finally seemed to get his act together as a writer on The Leftovers; since then, he has become a born-again proselytiser.