Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor
It is widely understood that many colleges across the country have big problems with sexual assault on campus, but what’s often even more disturbing is how those problems are addressed by the administration. Schools try to stop their students from going public with their claims and rarely end up taking any action against the rapists, in order to avoid damaging the institution’s reputation. In The Hunting Ground, this issue is examined in-depth, with many testimonials from schools around the country. The film follows two survivors from UNC Chapel Hill who led the recent surge in Title IX lawsuits against over 95 schools around the country. And while that may seem like a compelling narrative, and this issue is extremely important and worthy of attention, filmmaker Kirby Dick never finds anything inherently cinematic about this story, making for a documentary that feels extremely conventional, despite the subject matter.
Dick is best known for his Oscar-nominated The Invisible War, about rape in the military, and This Film is Not Yet Rated, his takedown of the MPAA. Both are in the same league as The Hunting Ground, where they take on important issues in the least interesting way possible. At least with this latest film, Dick starts somewhere more biting. He opens with a montage of self-shot videos of emotional high schoolers overjoyed at their acceptance letters and bits of welcome speeches and exciting move-in days. That’s instantly juxtaposed with one girl’s testimony of how she was raped before classes even started. From there it devolves into a series of talking head interviews, and not much more than that.
The most interesting aspect of this whole dilemma is the psychology of both the students committing act and the administration members doing everything they can to keep the victims from reporting the crimes. Dick doesn’t focus so much on the attackers (he has one anonymous interview with a convicted rapist) and that’s fine, for this particular subject the more interesting mindset is those administration members. However, the only ones who were willing to talk to him were former employees who quit over this very issue, who are really the less interesting subjects. The really despicable people are represented instead by psychologists and such, but the really fascinating version of this movie is the one where more of these image-obsessed deans are confronted. Dick lists all the schools that refused to talk to him at the end of the film saying “we tried!” yet without anyone like that the movie feels incomplete.
That’s not even mentioning how padded it feels, and how thinly that aforementioned narrative connects to the smaller stories featured throughout the film. It’s still heartbreaking to see some of these really young kids (boys and girls) talk about how wrecked the were by the experience, but outside of brief moments like that The Hunting Ground doesn’t do much to justify itself as a film and not an in-depth newspaper article.
Overall Grade: B-