'The Hunt': What the Critics Are Saying

Most critics praised Betty Gilpin's performance, but feelings about the controversial satire were mixed.

The reviews are in for The Hunt, and the one thing that critics can agree on is Betty Gilpin's standout performance.

The satirical film follows 12 strangers who wake up in a clearing with no knowledge of where they are or how they got there. The group soon discovers that they're being hunted for sport by a group of global elites. The elites' master plan is derailed when one of the hunted, Crystal (Gilpin), grasps the concept of the hunters' game. She turns the tables on the killers and sets her target on the group's mysterious leader (Hilary Swank).

The film was originally set to be released Sept. 27, though was delayed to March 13 following mass shootings in Texas, California and Ohio. Following the attacks, Universal and producer Jason Blum paused the ad campaign for the film.

After ads for the film were pulled, publicity around that decision prompted Fox News and Fox Business to devote many days of airtime to criticizing the movie. Host Lou Dobbs called the movie "sick" and "twisted," while he added that the idea of elites hunting deplorables sounded "a little too real." Meanwhile, President Donald Trump tweeted: "Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves 'Elite,' but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!"

For The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy wrote that the film "undeniably delivers the goods when it comes to action and impudence." The critic praised Gilpin's performance, writing that "The Hunt wouldn't be what it is without its leading lady." McCarthy added, "Gilpin pulls off the action moves, of which there are plenty, with sly elan. Crucially, she has a brazen, almost crazy side to her, a wide-eyed glee that can take over her whole personality for a spell." He wrote that the filmmakers "go out of their way to surprise," though the tactics used to keep the audience on the edge of their seats don't always work. McCarthy also noted that the filmmakers "channel their concerns about class power and conflict" into the film, but "toward the end, the filmmakers' attitude becomes overly glib and pranky."

The Guardian's Adrian Horton wrote that the film "isn't quite the political hot potato" that it's believed to be. Noting that the "violence is gratuitous if cartoonish," the critic added the Gilpin's performance stood out. "It’s good fun to watch her slink into a bunker and spit, 'bye, bitch,' or drawl through a rendition of the Tortoise and the Hare that has meaning because it ends in more violence," wrote Horton. Aside from Gilpin's performance, the critic said that the rest of the satire "struggles to translate." She wrote, "In making the worst stereotypes of America’s political poles as extreme as possible, and America's divide as literal and violent as possible, The Hunt feigns a viewpoint rather than actually having one."

For the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips agreed that Gilpin carries the film. "She's a fearsome action presence as well as a screwball heroine under wraps. She periodically saves The Hunt from itself," wrote Phillips. Despite Gilpin's performance, the critic was not impressed with the film."It's a lame and weaselly thing, made strangely more frustrating by some excellent performers," he wrote. Phillips added that there is "a tone problem," noting that the film "tries to get laughs with grenades down someone's pants and then, 20 seconds later, it's taking the maiming and the impaling seriously. Then it's a joke again, then seriousjokeseriousjoke."

Forbes critic Scott Mendelson called The Hunt "a dumb little movie" that's "neither an outrageously offensive lit match nor a courageously political battle cry." He praised Gilpin for delivering "a bravura star turn here, offering a nuanced, funny and deeply specific character who has far more to offer than just being 'the badass butt-kicking broad'" and noted that "she elevates the movie by providing a truly memorable accidental/unwilling action hero." Mendelson concluded, "Gilpin and Swank are terrific, the movie hits most of its comedic targets and it's a bloody good time at the multiplex."

The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy gave the film a negative review. "The Hunt is not great satire or even a great film," the critic wrote. "It's an unstylish and heavy-handed horror-thriller that turns into a revenge gore-fest as it mocks everyone with a big clumsy paw. It balks at making any grand conclusions about the state of America or how to heal our divisions, unless there's a message in the red-state character played by Gilpin cauterizing her torso wound with a high-end, blue-state kitchen torch," he added. The critic concluded that today's political climate is not the right time to release a satire. "These are not healthy days for satire, no matter how clownish," Kennedy wrote.

For Slate, Sam Adams wrote that The Hunt's biggest problem is "its phenomenally lazy script." Adams pointed out that the film only depicts "wealthy liberals and salt-of-the-earth conservatives." He continued, "It feels like the work of Hollywood liberals bending over so far backward to seem nonpartisan that they end up buying into the right-wing canard that the political divide and the class divide are one and the same, a fiction that suits the wealthy Republicans who harness class-war rhetoric to serve their own interests just fine." The writer then criticized the film for using political positions as a matter of rhetoric, noting the film's "cowardly" approach to tackling the subject. "It stems from having the privilege to see those differences as cosmetic, because their consequences never reach inside your front gate," he concluded.

USA Today's Brian Truitt gave the satirical film a more positive review than most critics, writing that he gave it three out of four stars. Calling Gilpin the "real highlight" of the film, Truitt wrote that "she makes a case for her own action-movie franchise." The critic continued, "The Hunt will make you laugh — perhaps nervously, with the occasional half-a-body laying around after a landmine goes off. It will also tick off those with a thin skin and without an open mind."

Philip De Semlyen for Time Out gave the satire two out of five stars. While the critic wrote that the film "starts strongly," the film slows down and "the surprises soon dry up." Despite acknowledging Gilpin's strong performance, De Semlyen remained unimpressed by the film. He concluded, "The only thing that keeps The Hunt from settling into the predictable rhythms of an action-thriller you've seen a hundred times before are the comic jabs at everything from veganism to Haiti to pro-choice campaigners to rabid alt-right talk-show hosts."

For The New York Times, A.O. Scott gave a more positive review. Writing that the film is "an almost-successful attempt to do for class and ideology what Jordan Peele's Get Out (also a Blumhouse production) did for racism," Scott added that the balance of horror and humor used in the film are "fairly effective." The critic said that the film is fueled by "frustration" with the current political climate. "It amounts to a protest against the hyper-politicization of everything, an attempt to reclaim popular culture as a demilitarized zone in the midst of our collective rhetorical forever war," he wrote. "This is admirable, but by the end it also feels halfhearted, as what looked like a dystopian fantasy turns into an exercise in wishful thinking."

Newsday's Rafer Guzman gave the film two and a half out of four stars. Noting that viewers "need a strong stomach and a taste for unsubtle humor to enjoy The Hunt," Guzman wrote that the film "may not strike all viewers as hilarious, but it certainly isn't a one-sided hate-fest. It's just bloody entertainment with a thick slab of socio-political humor." The critic added that Gilpin and Swank "take over the film's finale handily, trading verbal and physical blows to the strains of Beethoven."

The Hunt is set to hit theaters Friday.