One of the many brilliant things about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is the way it plays with audience expectations around the protagonist. We think Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane is the main character but then she is murdered forty seven minutes into the film with more than an hour to go. Having established a complex series of motivations and a whole story for her, this was a bold and surprising move on the legendary director’s part and is a great example of why he is a legendary director.
This film does something similar where viewers make assumptions about who they’ll be following through the film only to see them suddenly killed off, and while it only keeps this going for half the duration that Hitchcock did before it settles on a single person, it does do it multiple times. First you think one character is the hero, then another, then wait maybe it’s this guy, then no. It’s an interesting opening to the movie and one I’d feel worse about spoiling if the poster didn’t actually make it abundantly clear who the lead actually was.
It’s a clever little trick and even if it’s not quite Hitchcockian, it is a smart way to start the film. In fact it’s probably the smartest part of a movie that isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. The Hunt is the film that President Trump was taking objection to when he tweeted ‘Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level and with great Anger and Hate! … The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others’. (The irregular capitalisation is his not mine.) I can see why Trump and a few others in the US got their knickers in a twist as the set up of the film is that Democratic liberals are hunting ‘deplorable’ Trump Supporters for sport. It is clearly supposed to be a metaphor for the current political division in the States and the prejudice it creates. It isn’t very subtle and lacks the sophistication of the best satire. Of course, the film was pulled from theatrical release following Trumps protestations which gave it some notoriety but it was right to do this coming so soon after the Dayton and El Paso shootings as it was originally scheduled to do. The movie eventually came out in March this year just as the cinemas closed and following a premium rental release is now available for regular home viewing.
While it may not be the culturally incendiary film it was suggested as now that we have some distance and even if it isn’t the biting expose it aimed to be, The Hunt does have it’s treats. Chief among these, and showing that the poster people where right to showcase her so heavily, is Betty Gilpin. Gilpin, who you may know from Netflix’s Glow, is absolutely the draw of this film. Her performance as the prey who fights back is wonderful. It isn’t just her prowess in the action scenes, it is her tough as nails, unshakable, superbly sardonic and deliciously dry persona. Not since Killing Eve’s Villanelle, to whom this might owe a debt, have you seen such wonderful facial expressions.
There is some ingenuity in the narrative too and it does keep you guessing concerning some of the allegiances. The film is quite violent and gory in places, but even though this sits uneasy in the light of real world events like those in El Paso it is comedy violence and gallows humour is as old as theatre. The Hunt may not be quite what the film makers intended and it certainly isn’t what the events around it’s launch made it out to be but coming at it now, stepping away from its uninvited context, I quite enjoyed it.
The Ripley Factor:
Like Ripley herself Gilpin’s Crystal May Creasey is a woman unexpectedly thrown into a fight or die situation who steps up and shows strength and fortitude. She might be a little more psychotic than Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character but like Ripley her gender is largely incidental but not undermined or tokenistic, she is attractive but not objectified, she is not there to define or motivate any of the male characters and within the context of the film she is quite realistic in the skill set she demonstrates.
The question of whether or not she is an innocent victim (even though victim is a mantle she shrugs off immediately) is one that is explored and it is interesting how they settle on this. For a film that is critical of both sides of the political divide it is interesting and possibly a little cowardly where they ultimately place her but in the end I can see that they had to give her the right amount of likability. I mean, there is only so far Hollywood can push things.