Hunt Club

Hunt Club offers a depressing reminder of how difficult the acting business can be. It stars Mickey Rourke, Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers, and Mena Suvari of American Beauty and American Pie fame. All have done excellent work in the past. Now they’re stuck in a vulgar, mean-spirited thriller that thinks it’s saying something profound when it’s really just repeating ideas that The Last House on the Left covered in 1972 and I Spit on Your Grave repeated (less successfully) in 1978. These stars deserve much better.

Suvari plays Cassandra, a woman who breaks up with her girlfriend Tessa (Maya Stojan) in a small-town restaurant. Two men sitting nearby notice her anguish and ask her to sit with them. They’re Carter (Van Dien) and his teenage son Jackson (Will Peltz). Carter brags about how he’s taking Jackson for his “first hunt” on a nearby island with beautiful beaches and luxurious cabins. He invites the distraught Cassandra to join them, and she accepts, despite knowing them for less than five minutes.

What, exactly, are they hunting? Women, of course. Carter is a rich guy who believes men have become societally emasculated and need to reassert their dominance. To that end, he organizes an annual event where women are abducted and hunted by like-minded males. Rourke - in a performance that screams “Just give me my paycheck so I can get the hell out of here!” - plays Virgil, one of the hunters. Jason and Jeremy London (Remember them?) play two more. Cassandra discovers a barn full of women in their underwear, prepped to be set loose in the woods for the guys to murder. Without giving too much away, she has a scheme to turn the tables.

Hunt Club has been flatly directed by Elizabeth Blake-Thomas, whose visual style could charitably be described as “turn the camera on and point it at something.” Because the movie was made on a low budget, she can’t really even show the violence, leaving her editor to cut around it. For example, one poor woman is impaled by a swinging stick loaded with spikes. We see it swing, then get a close-up of her face as she screams, then see her bleeding body post-impalement. The actual contact is missing. The film is packed with moments like that, which betray the horror we’re supposed to feel. You can’t empathize with the characters when you’re chuckling at the ineptitude of the filmmaking.

Aside from a predictable plot, a dull Are they attracted to each other? arc between Cassandra and Jackson, and the queasy titillation factor of half-naked women being brutalized, Hunt Club has far too many seams showing. The overall cheapness prevents it from building suspense. Consider a climactic fight scene between Cassandra and Virgil. Suvari and Rourke are never in the same shot together, making it apparent that they didn’t work on the same day. Suvari carries out her shots with an obvious Rourke body double in a bad wig.

Hunt Club builds to a finale you’ll see coming a mile away, including a misogynist character receiving a fitting punishment for sexually assaulting one of the women. Suvari and Van Dien clearly try hard to make the material work. To the extent that the movie is at all watchable, it’s due to their efforts. Watching it is still a chore, though. The whole thing is poorly-made and thoroughly unpleasant in its subject matter. I hope the stars will start a new hunt for projects that are worthy of their talents.

out of four

Hunt Club is rated R for language and strong violence. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.