The suspenseful horror feature Hunt Club is a slow-building adrenaline rush directed by Elizabeth Blake-Thomas. Its cold open promises bloody action and a narrative where men don’t rescue the damsels in distress but fierce women. The female-led revenge film stars Mena Suvari and Maya Stojan as indomitable and cunning heroines while asking, “Who’s hunting who?”
A group of misogynist and predatory hunters, led by Carter (Casper Van Dien) and Virgil (Mickey Rourke), regularly lure women to a remote island for a hunt with the promise of a chance to win a life-changing sum of money. The women soon become the hunter’s prey. The hunters have one cardinal rule, “Never get too emotional or close to your prey.” Carter hopes to mold his son Jackson (Will Peltz) — who is fighting against his father’s nature while grappling with understanding his identity and sexuality — into an alpha male. He plans to achieve this by initiating Jackson into the club by killing his first quarry on the hunt.
Hunt Club predictably explores toxic masculinity, with the hunters wielding dominance, violence, and control to assert their power and superiority. Writers David Lipper and John Saunders aren’t coy with audiences, instead cementing the patriarchy of the film’s boys club. In a scene with the hunters gathered around a campfire, Carter remarks, “When was the last time you heard the word ‘masculinity’ without the word ‘toxic’ attached to it?” His speech defines his belief in the modern plight of the alpha male and how the hunt helps them to reclaim their strength and supremacy over women.
Van Dien has become known in the horror genre of late for his depiction of menacing and dominant male characters — his recent turn as the gently brutal patriarch in the cult thriller Daughter (2023) is one such performance. Carter is the perfect caricature to represent toxic masculine traits. He is tough, an aggressive brute, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-feminist. Van Dien portrays Carter’s beliefs earnestly while remaining somewhat comedic in his delivery, lifting the film’s tone amidst its serious themes.
When Lexi (Jessica Belkin) explains how she came to join the hunt, Cassandra (Suvari) retorts that taking money from rich men is the “perfect picture of third-wave feminism.” Interestingly, the third wave in the 1990s involved political activism and female heteronormativity, contrasting her relationship with Tessa (Stojan). The movement covered issues like intersectionality, reproductive rights, individual empowerment, violence against women, and sexual liberation. With regard to the narrative, her comments present the film’s focus on female empowerment and the movement's focus on comprehensive social reform to achieve true gender equality.
Hunt Club is bright and vibrant in its lighting, courtesy of cinematographer Duncan Johnson and colorist Matt Dean. Each character has a distinct style — Cassandra’s lime green jumpsuit, Carter’s tan old western jacket and white cowboy hat, Lexi’s vintage-inspired yellow checkered top and a tailored skirt, and Jackson’s brown suede “hippie” vest and a string of pearls — each conveys their contrasting natures. Composer Stephen Edwards’ score plays up the film’s suspense and intrigue, evoking a sense of danger. It’s reminiscent of the scoring of classic Westerns, which conveyed strict gender roles, but the film is suspended in the 1970s with men positioned as the iconic outlaws.
The film gives audiences an entertaining eye-for-an-eye joy ride and amusing depiction of the alpha male while remaining disgustingly depraved. Its forgivable downfall rests on the narrative’s predictability. It suffers from an overabundance of foreshadowing that unravels the mystery and revenge plot far too soon. However, revenge remains sweet and satisfying. Blake-Thomas allows Hunt Club’s strong female characters agency to reclaim their power by defying the patriarchy and defeating its club of privileged monsters.