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Dark humor and a breakout Betty Gilpin performance make 'The Hunt' a sadistic delight

The dark comedy in this "humans hunting human" adventure is the secret ingredient that makes it extra appealing. Don't take it too seriously.
Credit: Universal Pictures

ST. LOUIS — Take my advice right now. Please don't take "The Hunt" too seriously. The intent here is action-fueled satirical dark comedy. If you view it another way, the enjoyment level will decrease drastically. The idea here is blissful ignorance on the big screen!

The setup is simple enough: 12 strangers wake up in a large field with a gag strapped around their mouth. There's a giant chest of weapons for them to use nearby, but why do they need them? Because they are the most dangerous game ... human hunting. BOOM!

You know the rest. There's no real conspiracy here, just violence and much-needed tongue-in-cheek laughter. The strangers will get picked off one by one, but one of them (Betty Gilpin) will show the killers that they messed with the wrong young lady.

Craig Zobel's gleefully gratuitous film was delayed due to a series of mass shootings and President Trump's Twitter tirade following the attacks. Or maybe it wasn't. Jason Blum and Universal Pictures staged this re-release during the week of the Primary election. You should have gotten this little 90 minute slice of wicked entertainment last September, but here it is now for your viewing pleasure.

I think you should check this film out for a few reasons. Here they are.

Hello, Ms. Gilpin

The 33-year-old actress broke into show business with a slew of television roles ten years ago but has gotten into more films recently, including "The Grudge" and "Stuber." She's never had a role like she has in Zobel's film. She's the Southern twang version of Charlize Theron's "Atomic Blonde" spy/fighter. She can fight anyone, work any gun, and can take a punch. The actress owns the screen whenever she's on it with full-blown dedication to the part, which includes a few hilarious line readings. Without her, the movie is a Redbox pick of the week.

The film matches the hype

Instead of trying to act like the delay never happened, Universal and Blumhouse went down the other street, leaning into the banished film and using it as a badge of honor. This is the rare occasion where the hype is matched by the end result. "The Hunt" doesn't waste a lot of time getting going and sustaining that sense of mass hysteria. The thrills and shocking deaths come fast and furious, leaving viewers on the edge of their seat. What it lacks in a surprise ending is made up by sheer ferocity.

Hilary Swank is having fun again

She plays the lead mind behind the hunt, the key catalyst behind the kidnapping of twelve strangers. The Oscar-winning actress doesn't get many chances to play against type, but she takes full advantage here and delivers a twisted and sadistic woman in power. Athena is malevolent, merciless, and quite cunning-especially in one key scene towards the end. It's not a huge role, but a very important one. Swank is more than competent.

The Political Awareness of the script is deft, not dumb

You do find out the reason behind these particular people being picked and the political overtones are noticeable without being annoying or a distraction. The script from "Lost" creators Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof leans towards both parties, taking shots at Southern voters, liberal elitists, and overbearing conservatives. All are present here so don't get offended. A scene at a small market early on in the film is superbly staged, played out, and carries a huge punch line. But none of it is grating or too on the nose.

This is what you need to know. "The Hunt" is a wild, untamed yet enlivening cinematic experience. Every other film that centered around the most dangerous game element was serious and relentlessly dramatic; this film plays with the setup, stretching the range of the notion of humans hunting humans. What else do you think you're getting with Blumhouse and Lindelof bringing their minds together on the big screen?

The dark humor and easy-to-please graphic novel-tinged pulpy violence save the day here.

Did I mention it's only 90 minutes and flies by with some of the best pure action you've see in quite a while? Confirmed. Do "This Is Us" fans get to see one of their heartthrob favorite suffer a gruesome fate? Yes. Does Amy Madigan play a mean store clerk? You bet. Do Emma Roberts and Ethan Supree show up? Of course. The casting director has an eclectic taste.

Here's the thing. "The Hunt" is devilishly intuitive, highly entertaining, and quick on its feet. You'll remember that the most dangerous being on this Earth is still a human being with a gun and not a virus.

ST. LOUIS - Every actor has a toolbox where he or she can pull from in order to give a better performance. Certain movies require a few extra tools while others offer the performer a hands-free environment to evolve and transform.

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