By Marshall Shaffer
Kirby Dick opens “The Hunting Ground” with a montage of one of the happiest moments in a young person’s life – opening their college acceptance letter (set to “Pomp & Circumstance,” no less). That euphoria quickly dissipates, however, as the attention shifts towards the campuses themselves. These are, unfortunately, the ominous territories to which the title refers.
Sexual assault, of women and men, on college campuses constitutes nothing less than an epidemic. An estimated 20% of college females will be raped in their college years, a statistic that alone ought to make you want to vomit. But it is only the entry point into a culture and system that add insult to injury for survivors of sexual assault. Dick wisely cites the sources of the information he presents in title cards, making it harder to refute any claim he makes.
“The Hunting Ground” does not make for an infuriating watch simply because of numbers like the astonishing ratio of reported rapes to expulsion at many elite universities. (Hint: almost no one ever gets kicked out.) Dick expertly dismantles a complex system of intertwined interests that prevent proper punishment for the perpetrators. Over the course of an hour and a half, he skewers the fraternity industry (especially SAE), the NCAA sports business (especially at Florida State), and the ever-present need to keep donations high and reported crimes low.
Through it all, he never takes his eye off the real subject of the film – the survivors themselves. While anger is necessary to dismantle a system of perverse incentives meant to keep these men and women silent, the compassion and empathy we feel for these courageous souls is what will ultimately motivate action. Speaking personally, this issue only became real for me when two close friends of mine told me about their sexual assaults. Hopefully “The Hunting Ground” will provide the same impetus for those who are not in a position to hear such things from an acquaintance; it certainly possesses that kind of power and potency.
This film is now playing downtown at a/perture Cinemas. Find showtimes and tickets HERE
Marshall Shaffer is a senior at Wake Forest University specializing in film and media studies. He has been writing film reviews and other cinematic commentary on his blog Marshall and the Movies since 2009, and his work has also been syndicated on The Christian Science-Monitor. He keeps going through it because he needs the eggs. You can read more of his reviews HERE. You can hear Marshall’s new podcast HERE.