'The Hunt' isn't anti-Trump or pro-Trump. But it is a bloody rebuke of 'bothsidesism.'

"The Hunt" saves its clearest indictment for the fence-sitters.
Image: The Hunt
From left, Justin Hartley, Sylvia Grace Crim in 'The Hunt'.Universal Pictures
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By Noah Berlatsky

Director Craig Zobel's Blumhouse film "The Hunt" intends to offend, and it's already succeeded. Its original release in September was delayed when President Donald Trump lambasted the film on Twitter, believing — based on Fox News segments — that it was an attack on his supporters. In contrast, the new trailer for its rescheduled debut this week makes the movie look like a critique of the hypocrisy and cruelty of nefarious anti-Trump liberal elites.

The film itself, though, is neither pro-Trump nor anti-Trump. It's an apolitical, amoral excuse to shoot, stab and blow up the left and the right alike for mean-spirited giggles. As such, it more or less deliberately illustrates the violence and contempt at the heart of centrist false balance, sometimes called bothsidesism.

It more or less deliberately illustrates the violence and contempt at the heart of centrist false balance.

The villain of "The Hunt" is Athena (Hilary Swank), a rich liberal who drugs and kidnaps 12 “deplorable” Trump supporters and dumps them in an unidentified rural area. There they are improbably greeted by a pig and given a small arsenal to defend themselves. Then, Athena and her friends and allies hunt them down for sport.

The liberal elites here do occupy the role of the bad guys, and the movie has a lot of fun juxtaposing their politically correct rhetoric with their cruelty. They critique NPR's lack of diversity while dragging freshly murdered corpses across the floor and mete out apocalyptic vengeance for insensitive tweets.

But while the liberals are portrayed as killers barely concealed beneath compassionate skin suits, the right doesn't come off very well either. Gary (Ethan Suplee), one of the hunted, rants on viciously about globalist “cucks” and the evils of immigration as he works himself up to threatening an infant with a handgun.

The film's heroine, Crystal (Betty Gilpin), another one of the hunted, clearly thinks Gary and the other right-wingers are bores and fools. When Gary says he has 50 friends, she openly questions whether that is even possible. In the way of tough taciturn heroes everywhere, Crystal's affect is pretty flat. But to the extent she reacts to anything, she seems as pleased when the liberals kill her fellow deplorables as she is when she she gets to kill her lefty tormentors.

It's not quite right to say that Crystal is one of the right-wingers, though. She never actually expresses any political opinions and is completely uninterested in ideology. Gary and the rest of the hunted reasonably wonder why they've been targeted, but Crystal insists she doesn't care. All she needs to know is that people are trying to kill her.

Crystal's lack of an ethos is her strength. Left and right natter on while she picks up crowbars and goes to work.

Crystal's lack of an ethos is her strength. Left and right natter on while she picks up crowbars and goes to work. Her longest soliloquy is a variation on the story of the tortoise and the hare, in which the hare is a cold-hearted bastard who kills his way to victory, because "the hare always wins." The person she tells the story to is confused: who is the hare in this situation? Crystal doesn't explain, but the answer seems to be that neither political side is the winner. Instead, it's Crystal — the badass action hero — who wins, because she's in a bad ass action movie. Everyone else is just a distraction, or mildly satirical color. Blow them away and what's left is cheerfully exploitative entertainment.

And it is fairly entertaining. Even though you know going in that there will be a lot of carnage, the movie still manages to fool you into thinking that this character is going to survive, or that that one is at least going to make it to the next scene, or that the budding romance is going to bud, rather than be decapitated.

Despite these clever, ruthless twists, the climax is a bit of a let-down. The Blumhouse series “The Purge” uses its class warfare conceit to give violence a certain resonance. Its dystopian setting isn't real, but the hatred is. Crystal, though, adamantly eschews political commitments, and so her motivations are oddly blank; She fights for a kind of impersonal revenge. The movie evokes partisan passions just to demonstrate how blasé it is about them.

Just because you're blasé doesn't mean you're peaceable, though. Centrist pundits like to argue that our political culture is so antagonistic and toxic because of partisan animosity. Tribal enthusiasms are supposedly at the root of a public culture of violence and cruelty. If only we would stop picking sides, we'd stop fighting.

But in "The Hunt," it's neutral Crystal who is the most remorselessly, clinically violent character on screen. Her lack of partisan investment allows her to view the left and right alike with cold contempt, and then efficiently murder everyone, whatever their ideology. Moderation for Crystal isn't a way to avoid extremes and find a balanced, fair, reasonable course of action. It's a way to position herself so she can feel superior to everyone else while she plunges in the bloody knife. "The Hunt" ostensibly blames both sides, but its clearest indictment is of the fence-sitters.