Sunday, 15 March 2020
Thus Spake Zaroff’s Story
2020 USA Directed by Craig Zobel
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Very slight spoilers.
The Hunt is yet another in a long line of cinematic ‘adaptations’ of The Hounds Of Zaroff (aka The Most Dangerous Game)... heck, even Jess Franco made a version of it at one point (reviewed by me here). It even turned up as a sub-plot in The Purge: Anarchy (reviewed here). The classic story is, of course, that ‘the most dangerous game’ for hunting are human beings. Single people are usually hunted for sport in a remote setting like an island in these adaptations. For this latest spin on the classic tale, we have multiple quarry and a setting in a remote country.
I’ve been wanting to see this movie since I saw a trailer for it last year, shortly before the film got rescheduled from an August 2019 release due to a mass shooting in America. It’s finally now in cinemas and, I have to say, coming from the Blumhouse studios, I was expecting a somewhat competent and maybe slightly edgy action thriller.... well, I have to say that I got so much more. This is a brilliantly entertaining film although, I should probably warn you that it’s also quite brutal and gory, which some of us might argue it kind of needs to be when treating this subject matter for modern times.
I knew I was going to be in for more than the average action flick when I realised the film includes a pig called Orwell and a character referred to as Snowball. There’s very much a satirical edge to this tale of a cadre of rich people hunting down ‘undesirables’... so much more than at first meets the eye here and it’s really not just a run, shoot kill movie, although on the surface that’s exactly what it is.
The opening sequence was a bit problematic for me since it was so obvious what was going to happen, when one of the drugged ‘targets’ wakes up before he is supposed to. I even knew the doctor was probably going to ask to borrow a pen to do what he does in this opening and... yeah, I was disappointed that you could see exactly where this was going.
After this, though, the film smartens itself up considerably and we have one of those situations where the main protagonist doesn’t even come into the film properly for a bit. The first 20 minutes or so is of the majority of the human fodder in the movie being killed in, it has to be said, some unexpectedly brutal ways and it reminded me of fixating on the Janet Leigh character in Hitchcock’s Psycho before she is killed off and you have no idea of who the main protagonist really is anymore. The start of this movie is just like that where, every time you are encouraged by the director to latch onto a ‘main character’, they’re taken out in some spectacularly bloody manner. It’s a nice way of playing it and it also gives the audience some impression of what to expect in terms of the efficiency of this rich bunch of killers. It also, of course, means you can never be sure just who is going to be next on the list of deaths.
And then, after a scene at a gas station where a particularly satirical and violent conflict has just played out, we get the real protagonist of the movie turning up... Crystal, played in an astonishingly hypnotic performance by an actress I’d not heard of before called Betty Gilpin. She’s the survivor of the group of targets having served time in the military at some point and she’s the one who pretty much does all the thinking throughout the movie, as she uncovers various ‘rich antagonists in disguise’ while the story progresses. Also, I really got behind this actress because the way she plays the character with some wildly exaggerated expressions is just perfect and, often, quite funny. The way she is written and performed as the ‘dumb redneck’ who turns out to be the smartest one in the room is pretty cool and a nice step up from some of the Hollywood stereotypes we’ve been living with for the last 100 or so years.
My only real problem with it was the final reveal of the villain. There’s an element of self fulfilling prophecy about the set up of the mechanics in motion to make The Hunt a thing in this world and I’m not going to say anything about that because this, perhaps unnecessary information, could be considered a bit of a spoiler for some. I will give away the bizarre villain reveal though because it’s totally stupid and pointless. All through the film there is a ‘mystery character’. She’s deliberately hidden from the camera and we only see the back of her head... it’s a bit like looking at Blofeld in the early bond movies where all you would see was the back of a head and some hands stroking a cat to denote the important status of this character. When we finally see her for the third act she’s revealed as... Hilary Swank. But we knew this already right? She has prominent billing doesn’t she? So... everybody knows Hilary Swank is in the movie and her face hasn’t been on screen for the first two thirds so... this reveal is not hard to guess now, is it?. That’s my one real... huh?... moment of the film. Why they bothered to hide her face when everyone knew she was in it.
Anyway, when Betty Gilpin’s character has killed pretty much everyone else off and she’s on her own, she finds the compound of Swank’s character and it’s not long before these two are indulging in a lethal, up close and personal fight. I’m pretty sure the filmmakers are going for a scene reminiscent of the opening fight between Uma Thurman and Vivica A Fox in Kill Bill Volume 1 in intensity and... well it doesn’t really top or match up to that scene to be fair but it does get a lot more in your face than most movies do these days, it has to be said.
And that’s me more or less done on The Hunt, other than to say I could stand watching this a few more times and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a Blu Ray release when the time comes. It’s a nice version of The Hounds Of Zaroff with a certain intelligence behind the characters and their perceptions of a certain ‘class’ of people, is beautifully acted (great seeing Ethan Suplee again), has some brilliantly choreographed and ferociously well edited action sequences, a stand-out turn from the person who does eventually turn out to be the main protagonist and, as it turns out, a really nice post-denouement end scene that also elevates the main character, in my opinion.
If you’re into action cinema, make sure you see this one... it’s a well put together and surprisingly rewarding stand out of the genre.