Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr When it was pulled from release in the aftermath of the El Paso shootings last year, controversial Blumhouse thriller The Hunt seemed destined to get quietly dropped on a streaming service in a year or two when it would be defanged of any social relevance. But it turns out the current political moment is even better suited for this film’s messaging. Back in September, screenwriter Damon Lindelof’s fainthearted both-sides-ism might have blended in with every other post-2016 film about this divided nation. Against the backdrop of the corporate establishment asserting itself against any semblance of progression in the Democratic primary, however, a polemic skewering the absurd hypocrisy of the liberal elite really, sincerely, slaps. The Hunt, cowritten by Lindelof and his former “Lost” partner Carlton Cuse’s son Nick and directed by Compliance helmer Craig Zobel, is a political satire wrapped around the structural spine of “The Most Dangerous Game.” It is a brisk 90-minute exploitation flick about a dozen Trump supporters being hunted by the rich liberals they so despise. At its worst, the logline calls to mind the political bluntness of an “SNL” cold open, but in execution, it’s a surprisingly sharp look at the polarization in this country, held back only by its chief architect’s frustrating inability to take certain themes across the finish line. Viewed purely from a craft perspective, this is a shrewd and well-orchestrated movie product. This reviewer had previously read a leaked, early draft of the screenplay this past summer, but with only minor alterations, the movie’s successive twists, turns and reveals still play perfectly. On the page, there was a cringey glee to the way Lindelof and Cuse subverted narrative expectation, as if they couldn’t stop cackling at the ways the first act bobs and weaves before settling into the main conflict. But on screen, none of their Tarantinian fourth wall-breaking makes the cut, so all that’s left is lean and mean and etched with a serrated edge. The film’s first third plays fast and loose with who the protagonist will be, splitting the difference between Lindelof’s television work and a no-frills horror flick like Feast, but once we settle on Crystal (Betty Gilpin), the only one of the “hunted” with the necessary skills to not get merked, the second act shifts into a survival thriller. We watch Crystal sidestep all the obvious traps her forebears fell for, with glimpses at the larger scheme at play. By the time she makes it to the final boss (Hilary Swank), the Shang Tsung of Liberal Wine Moms, the audience, regardless of personal political inclination, is ready to see her emerge from this “game” victorious. Along the way, supporting players like Glenn Howerton, Macon Blair and Amy Madigan play some of the most efficiently realized portraits of classist chucklefuckery. These deluded pricks shift between fake-woke virtue signaling, clutching pearls over proper nomenclature and their jaundiced understanding of racial inequality as a self-serving salve designed solely to mask their unrelenting hatred for poor people. It’s the best distillation of the toothless “vote blue no matter who” crowd since Jordan Peele got Bradley Whitford to say he would have voted for Obama a third time, if he could. Zobel helms the comedy and action with a similarly assured and austere hand, proving the duds in his filmography are merely the result of incompatible thematic material. But as much as Lindelof should be lauded for focusing his critical lens on, ostensibly, himself and his misguided peers, there’s something depressing and pernicious about the centrist viewpoint from which this film has been penned. While the elites take their lumps and there is certainly no shortage of conservatives who eat shit throughout the film’s runtime (particularly a great turn from Ethan Suplee as a would-be Alex Jones), the single figure to root for is the one purposely rendered apolitical. Crystal is a ferocious and entertaining heroine, backed by a truly captivating performance from Gilpin, but she’s also largely silent, all of her dialogue specifically crafted to be stripped of any signifiers that would let her be lumped in with the racists and homophobes whose absurd deaths we’re meant to grin at with glee. It wouldn’t be difficult to teach an entire screenwriting class on the craft required to maintain this high-wire act of audience sympathy, so realizing how much creativity went into making the film’s lone, sane, likable figure the only one who doesn’t pick a side feels pretty disingenuous. It’s not surprising, given the foibles of the otherwise impressive “Watchmen” series Lindelof recently helmed. But since the rest of this endeavor is so otherwise giddy with controversial energy, it would have been nice if Lindelof pushed himself and the team a little further left.