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Kind of controversial movies of 2020: Call of the wild and The Hunt

2020, in terms of movies, had a few controversies that honestly flew over my head on most occasions; two stuck out to me as very silly, so I wanted to check them out before getting to the more pressing stuff on my list. First, let me refresh your memory on what the controversies were all about: “Call of the wild” is the latest adaptation of the highly influential book from over a century ago (!) and the controversy was the use of CGI to represent Buck the dog over a real dog. Lastly, “The Hunt” is about twelve strangers waking up in the woods somewhere, hunted by their abductors as sport; the movie gained significant backlash over early test screenings and from various political figures for its depiction of political satire and violence. Now that I’ve refreshed our memories and brought back these silly controversies that I personally did not care about when the movies were about to release, let’s see how they turned out as movies.

Let’s kick things off with “Call of the wild”, starring Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Karren Gillian, and directed by Chris Sanders. I thought the movie was good; its cheesy and too on the nose with its writing, but it is adapted from a century old book and it forced the right feelings at each time for me, so I can only imagine the impact it could have had on younger audiences. It is wholesome and charming, there’s always momentum and energy to keep audiences entertained, and some of the set-piece moments are great. Ford just chews up every scene he is in with his natural charisma and experience, and Sanders does a great job directing, given that this is his first live-action film. What about the controversy? What about the silly-looking, CGI dog in the trailer? In the movie, it’s not that bad! Yes, there are moments where it is distracting and looks fake, but for the most part, it feels stylized appropriately and they manage to endear this dog to me, to the point where I feel they successfully attempt to convey emotions through him and it was the right call. On a longer and slightly hotter take on the subject, I am the sort of person who loves both Jackie Chan movies and Michael Bay; I do have a dog (haha) in this race, because mostly I prefer practical effects over CGI, but both are problem solvers and if used wrong, both can be problems themselves. In this case, getting an actual dog to do the things needed for this movie would be nigh impossible, let alone completely inhumane, but even then, the flow of the set-pieces and the situations where Buck could be placed would significantly change, if it was a real dog. I know how that sounds coming from someone who claims he is sick and tired of CGI set-pieces that depict realistic sequences that are completely bonkers, and revels in the use of real stunt people and actors doing the stuff their characters are doing on camera, but that is more of a statement on the overuse and seemingly, never-ending need to one-up each other in action blockbusters, rather than the actual technique; moreover, if it means that stunt people can be safer and more effective in their jobs, then I wouldn’t mind it personally, although as a critique of the project it still stands.

Lastly, “The Hunt” was a nice surprise for me; I don’t think it is great, but given that it was shelved and edited to a degree, before being dumped in cinemas early in 2020, I thought this was going to be bad. Instead, it is pretty good! The humor and satire worked for me, Betty Giplin is an awesome lead that I really want to see more from for both action and comedy roles, the directing is solid, the writing is good, the action/horror parts were fun and entertaining, while comedic moments actually got a few good laughs out of me; I even liked the concept of the ending, but the execution of it was janky and poor, which is one of the reasons I don’t think this movie is great, the other being that the movie’s too short and doesn’t have enough breathing room for its characters and ideas to develop all that well. Having said that, I have to call a spoiler warning here; as a summary, this movie is very cheap to rent for one viewing and that cost is easily overcome from Giplin’s excellent leading performance, and if you go in expecting a decent movie that won’t blow you away, then you’ll enjoy yourself for sure, at least for the most part. In the next paragraph begin the spoilers, so you’ve been warned for the last time!

Firstly, let’s address the ‘violence’ part of the controversy: It’s fucking stupid. People consume and engage with violent media (whether that is video games, movies, music, or whatever else) all around the world, yet violent crimes involving shootings or other often associated traits with these arguments, happen in a few countries with abnormal rates; point being, this is not something that can be attributed to entertainment, but is by people who are looking to logicalize illogical cruelty with something they probably don’t understand either. That’s the easy one though; now let’s get into the ‘political’ part of the controversy, which is where the spoilers will begin. “The Hunt” claims to be a political satire of the left and right, but one important distinction to make is that this movie was marketed as a typical slasher movie with “The most dangerous game” inspirations that usually release every year, so in the controversy a big “spoiler” was revealed: The aristocrat stand-in was not your typical right-wing beliefs asshole, but politically correct liberals who were hunting right-wing assholes, specifically for their beliefs…but not really, however we will get to that. First, let me vent about something I see lately in a lot of media and hate; “subversion of expectations”. In my mind, there is only one rule in entertainment; get the reaction you intended from the audience. You can follow all the rules you want and you can fact-check, logic-check, and double-check the thing you made, but if it is supposed to surprise me and it didn’t, you screwed up; alternatively, you can follow none of the rules and succeed. It is all about how good you are at delivering the vision of the project, and if your aim is “good art”, then it should work on closer inspection of all your features and make good use of the inherent qualities of the medium or just work your ass off to create something that works brilliantly without them. Keep that in mind as I say, I hate things that “subvert expectations” for no fucking reason; I imagine the person writing/directing it being smug and saying shit like “no one will see this coming” or “they’ll never guess the ending, I’m so smart and a great artist”. Maybe that last bit is harsh, but subverting expectations should only be used to examine/reveal a hidden or unfrequently discussed truth about something. Case in point: “The Hunt”. In a mostly liberal Hollywood, these villainous roles are mostly written with extreme, conservative points in mind and that is stupid. That “truth” is enough reason for the twist and the undeniable unpredictability and entertainment value it adds to an overdone story blueprint, but in order for it to work on closer inspection and as a “subversion of expectations”, there is still much to do. In reality, the twist reversal of the roles is actually the hook for the movie’s actual theme and message it wants to explore: The state of political discourse is fucked and making judgements about others through impressions and misinformation is bad.

Look at how the movie portrays both groups in the movie: The liberal hunters are filthy-rich CEOs who worry more about seeming politically correct and showing how “woke” they are, but in their private lives they do as they please, and when caught and thrown off their ivory throne, they train for several months in order to kill random people who spread a conspiracy theory (which ironically is the thing they joked about). Then, we have the twelve strangers who are abducted and thrown in the woods, find some weapons, and without question believe their knock off QAnon conspiracy and mostly run towards their own death, using “snowflake” unironically and still rebuking the gun conversation with their 2nd Amendment Right. Neither of these groups is shown under a positive light; they are both extreme parodies of their caricatures.

I don’t want to get too much deeper into the story, but I will touch on a couple of things; the quality of the writing and ideas drop significantly on the latter half of the movie. It feels less efficient and ‘clean’, there are too many loose ends with the ending twists, and while the action remains consistently great, there are too many details and (what feels like) scenes missing from the final 30 minutes. According to the director, it was always meant to be a fun b-movie inspired thriller, rather than a serious satire, and in the final scene it shows; while the action set-piece is fucking brilliant, the twists sound in concept, their execution is janky and unsatisfying. That final 15 minutes had me convinced the movie was heavily edited after the controversy and a lot of vital information or context was lost, but I can’t find any such information online, so maybe it was not.

All in all, I know I went on a bit of a rant there, but I’m really frustrated by movies who get so much stuff right and yet fail at the end to take it over the line and be great. As far as the controversy goes, no I don’t think this was a sensible move by the studio, the original twist being public knowledge without the context necessary, as well as giving audiences the opportunity to experience that first hand, are shitty. Moreover, given how both groups are portrayed, how misinformation and making key judgements from a glimpse on social media are themes of the movie, the dramatic irony must not be lost on anyone associated with the film, especially since the controversy originates from one badly edited and marketed trailer.

So, both movies turned out good but flawed, and, once again, controversy surrounding movies was taken to an extreme with no logic or common sense prevailing and the movies in questions don’t seem to be exploitative neither in intent or execution in any way. Hopefully, audiences will learn and grow and next time, we will be less easy to judge…but, there’s more of a chance I will win the lottery this week and have the check rewarded to me by Marlon Brando!

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