'The Hunt': Never Underestimate a Combat Veteran

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Betty Gilpin plays an Afghanistan combat veteran in "The Hunt." (Universal Pictures)

Update: Since coronavirus has closed the theaters, Universal has made "The Hunt" available for rent at all the most popular home video services. A $19.99 rental gives you unlimited viewing for 48 hours.

"The Hunt" is a "satirical thriller" that should give equal opportunity offense to fans of both Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow, a movie that could bring the quarreling extremes in America together in a way that no politician ever could.

It's also a movie that generated controversy last summer when members of the news media (none of whom had seen the film) decided that "The Hunt" was set to cash in on a series of mass shootings in the United States. Its release was canceled, but now Universal is trying again in the shadow of the coronavirus panic.

"The Hunt" is a wickedly nasty exploitation movie that clocks in at under 90 minutes (including credits). It's ruthlessly efficient in its storytelling and packs a rather elaborate plot and ace action sequences into less time than it takes for a Marvel movie to clear its throat.

Part of what you've heard is true. Hillary Swank leads a group of NPR-listening liberals who've declared open season on "deplorables" via a private hunt along the lines of "The Most Dangerous Game." Both the hunters and their prey are equally deplorable, and the script by "Watchmen" producers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelhof turns its firehose with equal force on the clueless elites and the internet conspiracy trolls they're hunting.

Standing apart from the crowd is Afghanistan combat veteran Crystal (Betty Gilpin), who learned some wicked survival skills during her Army service. How she finds herself dumped into the sewer with the rest of the movie's loathsome crew is one of the movie's greatest reveals, and it's worth getting yourself to the theater before someone insists on ruining all the plot twists.

Characters don't die in the order that you'd expect (based on their movie-star billing), and the writers and director Craig Zobel never fail to deliver on the gruesome surprises that await almost all of the characters.

The trailers have already revealed that the movie builds up to a showdown between Swank and Gilpin. By the time they square off in epic hand-to-hand combat, you'd think the movie has entirely abandoned its satire and just embraced its glorious exploitation action roots. And then comes the stinger, just as the battle ends.

Without giving anything away, it's hard not to mention here that "The Hunt" features one of the best military adviser jokes you're ever going to hear, one that should bring joy to the hearts of every combat grunt. You might think you see it coming, but you really won't.

Navy veteran Sturgill Simpson offers an outstanding turn as one of the hunted deplorables, and his character is credited as "Vanilla Nice." Just like his other roles in "Queen & Slim" and "The Dead Don't Die," Simpson takes a smaller role and makes it memorable.

Ultimately, "The Hunt" celebrates an Army veteran who doesn't have time for any of the noise and nonsense generated by the honking geese of modern social media.

Gilpin is dynamite in this movie, and anyone who's enjoys a shoot 'em up exploitation movie (and isn't an active follower of QAnon) should have a blast watching "The Hunt."

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