On the Shooting of Deplorables

Betty Gilpin in The Hunt (Universal Pictures)

The Hunt’s gallery of condescending liberals and ignorant rednecks is pretty much guaranteed to irritate everyone.

‘The Most Dangerous Game” gets the InfoWars treatment in The Hunt, a horror-satire that was postponed from its fall release date after a trailer, which showed Davos elites hunting “Deplorables” for blood sport, led to an outcry on the irony-challenged Right. President Trump led the chorus.

Now the movie has restyled itself as “controversial” for marketing purposes.

As the trailer promised, The Hunt mocks the caviar-scarfing, NPR-listening, private jet-owning progs who run a nefarious ring that goes around the country kidnapping and drugging their perceived ideological enemies, who read as “Trump supporters” though Trump goes unmentioned. The prey wake up gagged and clueless in the countryside while the hunters lurk in the woods attacking them with booby traps, grenades, rifles, even bow and arrow. Sportingly, the Deplorables are provided with assault rifles and other good stuff with which to fight back, which is probably the least plausible detail of the opus and is provided solely because of the cinematic imperative that a turkey shoot is not very interesting to watch.

What the trailer didn’t tell us: In addition to being a (lame) satiric attack on bicoastal liberal plutocrats, The Hunt is also a (really lame) satiric attack on the Deplorables themselves, who are idiots and do things like attend rallies holding up signs reading, “Don’t Be Gay.” Har, har. Dialogue suggests the two screenwriters — Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, who worked together on HBO’s Watchmen and The Leftovers — logged about three minutes on Breitbart and ten minutes on InfoWars picking up jargon they didn’t quite understand, then shoved all of this into the mouths of their red-state caricatures. The Deplorables spit fire at “Globalist elite liberal cucks” — er, fellas? That isn’t what “cuck” means. You can almost hear Lindelof and Cuse giggling offscreen as they trundle out one social-media cliche after another — “trigger warning,” “snowflake,” etc. Maybe Deplorables and Davosians should join forces and hunt down hack screenwriters trying to sell us the hottest buzzwords of four years ago.

By taking on both the woke Left and the Trumpist right, the movie winds up emphatically planting its flag in the . . . center-left. Ideologically speaking, that’s about as exciting as saying, “You know what I am? I’m a Bidenist.” The release date, the same week Joe wraps up the Democratic Party nomination, turns out to be auspicious. Meta-joke number one: This movie that was supposed to be about Trump wound up being about Biden.

Among all the Maybach Marxists scolding each other about cultural appropriation and the paranoid Sean Hannity-ites muttering about “crisis actors,” there’s only one likable character in the movie, but Lindelof and Cuse lack either the wit or the courage to make her an actual conservative, so she winds up also being the only nonpolitical character. That’s a cop out. It renders this notionally naughty, contrarian, cutting-edge satire about as tangy as a tub of margarine. Even when Hollywood sets out trying to pander to red-state audiences, they can’t quite do it, proving unable to put in the work that would enable them to crack conservative codes. Meta-joke number two: This movie about failing to understand one’s ideological adversaries is symptomatic of that trait. This dope’s gallery of condescending liberals and ignorant rednecks is pretty much guaranteed to irritate everyone.

Say this for The Hunt: Lacking as it is in satiric bite, it does hold your interest while you figure out exactly what’s going on; the bones of the plot are sturdy enough. Also, Betty Gilpin turns in a fine performance as the Linda Hamilton of Hertz clerks, there’s a surprising appearance by an Oscar-winning performer, and there are a couple of good jokes about liberals being clueless about how their fantasy weapons actually work. Meta-joke number three: Just as a liberal in The Hunt does not realize that when you pop the magazine out of a rifle, there could still be a round in the chamber, no one in the audience I saw the film with, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, seemed to grasp this either. And I respect a movie that builds a climactic moment around a discussion of Animal Farm, particularly when the critique indicates an understanding that the novel is claimed by both left and right.

The only thematically interesting points emerge in the closing minutes, when after much ridiculous bloodshed the remaining characters discover that their storylines were driven by two colossal misunderstandings. In one of these, a joke that was taken seriously led to the joke becoming real, due to an impulse that amounts to owning the other side by living down to its worst fears of you. There’s some metaphorical weight to that; if The Hunt had built on this idea, instead of merely tossing it in as a twist, it might have been intriguingly subtle social commentary. Instead it’s about as clever as an Andy Borowitz column.

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