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Jim Schembri’s new streaming reviews, Thu 17 Apr, 2020

Jim Schembri

THE HUNT *** (104 minutes) MA

In what has widely and inaccurately been described as a “controversial” movie – is it not the most over-used adjective in modern life? – a group of wealthy liberal elites kidnap a group of ordinary right-wing citizens, release them in a field, supply them with weapons, then begin hunting them down – only the game doesn’t go quite as planned.

There’s as much blood, gore and killing here as you’d get in any reasonably well-made C-grade splatterfest, yet what makes The Hunt especially fun is the heavy sprinkling of gags and references to contemporary politics, PC-speak and the over-heated outrage culture spawned by the culture war between the Left and Right in Trump’s America.

Clearly knowing the genre’s conventions inside out, director Craig Zobel, who gave us the chilling 2012 indie drama Compliance, efficiently dispatches the cast at an alarming and unpredictable rate, making sure each deployment of movie blood comes with a nicely judged jolt.

The film’s big selling point, though, are all the fleeting, earnestly delivered japes about racism, gender identity, Trump’s “deplorables”, climate change, politics, online culture and so forth.

They are funny and well-timed, to be sure, though some have been tricked into taking these topical gags as some perspicacious critique about the state of the world.

That’s phooey, for the most part. The film’s snarky  humour is just a clever ruse to conjure the illusion of controversy. It’s the cinematic version of “trolling”, where one party engages in behaviour they know will boil the blood of the other, usually for sheer amusement.

And it’s worked for The Hunt, to an extent, in that it’s aroused large amount of silly commentary trying to decipher the film’s non-existent subtext. It even got to the ear of US President Donald Trump, who implicitly slagged off the film in a tweet last August, even though he hadn’t seen it.

If pressed, you could say the film, which features a wonderfully straight-faced, trigger-happy performance from Glow’s Betty Gilpin – joining a long list of female action heroes – offers a cheeky backhander to the self-righteousness that dominates too much public discourse.

Beyond that, it would strain any brain to see The Hunt as anything more than a blood-speckled piece of splatter cinema with a mischievous mind and a huge body count.

The film has had a rocky release history.

It was meant to come out last September in the US, but the mass shootings in an El Paso Wal Mart on 3 August (22 killed; 24 injured) and on 4 August outside a crowded Dayton nightspot (nine killed; 27 injured) prompted Universal to shelve the film, a move director Zobel supported.

The film finally came out on 13 March but only lasted a week before the measures against the Coronavirus shut cinemas nationwide. It was released into the US stream on 30 March, and here last Friday (9 April).

It’s a fun, throwaway jaunt, just be aware of that $19.99 rental price, which is less than most cinema admissions. That is the premium you pay for getting a new film inside that once-precious 90-day window between the theatrical and streaming release. It’s a window that is cracking under the privations of CV19.

(Apple TV; Google Play; YouTube; Fetch; Foxtel; Playstation; Telstra TV)

  

VIVARIUM *** (98 minutes) M

Here’s a tight, whip-smart slice of slick Twilight Zonesque surrealism designed to unsettle and intrigue.

In their search for a home in which to build their new lives together hard-working, clean-cut couple Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are taken by a creepily obliging real estate agent to a new housing development where all the houses look exactly alike.

Mysteriously left on their own, Tom and Gemma try leaving the estate yet their various attempts to get home lead to the unnerving discovery that all routes lead to the same house.

Clearly inspired by the dream-gone-wrong spirit of such shows as The Outer Limits, Amazing Stories and The Twilight Zone director Lorcan Finnegan, who conceived the unpredictable, inventive story with screenwriter Garret Shanley, does a fine job keeping you guessing about what can possibly happen next in such a claustrophobic scenario.

The film cleverly plays on two themes common to most nightmares, namely loss of control and pointless toil, and it’s made all the scarier with bright lighting, a limited colour palette and an under-the-skin soundtrack.

For deep readers, Vivarium could be an allegory about ordered suburban life and the lack of choice people have once they become fully domesticated. It certainly keeps you wondering about what exactly is going on with our hapless, helpless couple.

To their credit Poots and Eisenberg, who also produced the Irish/Danish/Belgian film, do great work conveying how anger and frustration over a bizarre circumstance can lead to a begrudging acceptance that helps make the torment of a living nightmare tolerable.

(Google Play; iTunes; Telstra; Fetch; Umbrella Entertainment; also Foxtel on Demand from May 6.)

 

TIGER KING: THE TIGER KING AND I ** (45 minutes)

No, despite what we were lead to believe, this is not episode eight of Tiger King, but a hastily slapped together post-series catch-up with most of the main players from the extraordinary documentary series that set viewing records, largely because of a greatly inflated audience  seeking distraction during the global CV19 shut-in.

Messily hosted by comedian Joel McHale (Community), the show has him interviewing each of the participants via video chat about Tiger King, how it (mis)represented them, what they got out of it (if anything) and what they’re up to now.

Not a skilled interviewer, McHale’s scattershot style nonetheless elicits some golden quotes, with opposing opinions on what Joe Exotic – now serving 22 years for planning to kill rival Carole Baskin – was really like.

Hated as he is Joe actually has his defenders, though there’s no defending him in one distressing anecdote involving a ghastly example of animal cruelty.

Neither Baskin nor Exotic are interviewed and that’s a huge hole in the show because they’re who we really wanted to hear from. We’re not even told if they were approached.

Given how much Baskin has railed against her portrayal in Tiger King, one imagines she would have lurched at the opportunity to set the record straight (from her point of view, at least).

As for Joe, he’s not exactly busy with a full dance card at the minute. We learned from Tiger King that he loves talking on the phone from prison so it seems he would have been an easy get. So why the no-show?

(Netflix)

Jim Schembri
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