Sunday, July 05, 2020

The Most Dangerous Myths: On Ready or Not and The Hunt

Hollywood B pictures often come in twos. Somehow, almost inexplicably, we get two movies about undersea monsters, Leviathan and Deepstar Six, Volcanoes, Dante's Peak and Volcano, and asteroids hitting Earth, Armageddon and Deep Impact. Last year, in the brief interregnum between blockbusters and prestige pictures we got two pictures about people hunting people for sport, or at least we were supposed to.

Ready or Not was released last August, but the other film remaking or rebooting The Dangerous Game, The Hunt was pulled from theaters. This was in part due to mass shootings around that time. Although I must confess I could not remember which mass shootings, they have become a bit of a blur. The cancelling of postponing of spectacles of violence in the face of actual violence is nothing new. As the shootings continue there is a minor history of delayed films and television episodes. With The Hunt it was not just shootings, but the fact that trailer had a reference to "deplorables" and appeared to be elites hunting the salt of the earth. Fox News picked it up, and the nations Fox News Watcher and Chief Tweeter followed suite. The film was released in theaters just as theaters were closing, and eventually made it onto streaming services. Now that both films are out it is possible to ask how they remake the most remade and refilmed story ever, how they update its particular subtext. 

Starting with what I consider to be the better of the two, Ready or Not, a film that deserves a place along with Parasite and Knives Out as a film on the intimacy of class struggle. Ready or Not is about a woman, Grace who marries into the wealthy La Domas family. The La Domas family made their wealth, at least in part, on games and for that reason they require every new member of the family to play a randomly selected game on their wedding night. There is a catch though, the La Domas family believe the that their wealth comes from a deal with a shadowy figure named Le Bail and this deal comes with conditions. If the game is hide and seek then the family must find and kill the newcomer by dawn. Old money must be replenished by new blood. I like this film a lot, but I must admit that I read Aaron Bady's review of it before I saw it and it spoiled the movie for me. Not, in the sense that it gave away the plot, these films all follow the same pattern after all in which the hunter becomes the hunted, but because it suggested one thing that would have improved the film immensely. Grace survives until the morning and for a split second the family is confronted with the idea that maybe their deal with a devil of sorts was a lie, a fiction they told themselves to believe that they were different, deserved their wealth. Bady argues that the film should have stopped there, with the La Domas family forced to confront the fact that it was all bullshit. 

In a different way The Hunt is also about a particular kind of mythology. The film begins with a group text chat in which elite liberals are doing what we would expect them to do, complaining about the president (but no one calls him King Cheeto), but suddenly things change when they talk about looking forward to hunting deplorables at the manor. We don't really understand the significance of that text chat until the end of the film. 

In between everything goes as we expected. A group of "deplorables" are dumped into a field, provided with arms, and hunted. The deplorables say what we would expect them to, raising issues of false flags and secret cabals of elites, and the elites do what we would expect, argue about the correct nomenclature for "African-Americans" or "Blacks" testifying to the reality of climate control, and argue about the second amendment. There is one seeming exception, Crystal who not only proves more adept at detecting traps, she is less concerned with the latest conspiracy theories. As she explains in a brutal retelling of the Jackrabbit and the turtle, the world is divided into those who always win and those who always lose. She gets her bearings not from something she read on the internet, but from a bit of tradition that has been passed down from her mother. 

This brings us to the text chat that opened the film. After Crystal has dispatched most of the elites and the consultant they hired to train them in military tactics she heads to the manor to confront the last of them (there is a long history of outsourcing manhunts), final girl versus final boss. Only then do we learn why they are being hunted. The film flashbacks one year prior. We learn that the original group text was a joke, but somehow it went public. Now that the world has seen powerful CEOs joking about hunting "deplorables" proper symbolic measures must be taken, people are removed from jobs and lucrative government positions. In this way reality imitates fiction in that the joke in the trailer sidelined the film much like it sidelined the characters. The hunters are people whose careers were destroyed by the joke, and have decided to get revenge by making it a reality. They have found their trolls, the people who doxed them or spread news of their joke, ripped them from their online anonymity and hunted them for revenge. 

Or at least they think they have, it appears that they got the wrong Crystal. At the very least Crystal is an exception to the rest of the group of deplorables we see in the film, she seems to have no patience for conspiracy theories. She is an everywoman, a kind of middle person between those who use the internet to create and maintain stock values and those who who use it to disseminate conspiracy theories. After killing the final boss Crystal gets on the same corporate jet that was used to transport her, and splits the champagne and caviar with the flight attendant. It is a scene of working class unity in a film that is mostly about the purely symbolic divisions that define the simulacra of class in American politics.

What links these two films, beside the obvious rehash of a story that has been done to death, is that in rebooting the story of a classic struggle between rich and poor they recognize that this conflict is also a conflict about the different myths that the rich and poor construct about themselves, about the myths of family legacies, global elites, and deplorables. Being able to see through these myths, to recognize the bullshit, is as important skill or survival as being able handle a shotgun. 

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