Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don’t know where they are, or how they got there. They don’t know they’ve been chosen – for a very specific purpose – The Hunt.
In a group text, Athena Stone celebrates an upcoming hunt of “deplorables.” Later, on her private jet, she kills a man who staggers out from the cargo hold.
Eleven captives wake up gagged, in a forest, for the hunt. In a clearing, they find a cache of weapons and keys to their gags, but upon retrieving them, five are killed by an unseen enemy, three escape over a barbed-wire fence to a service station. The station’s owners, an elderly couple consisting of Miranda “Ma” and Julius “Pop”, identify their location as a point on Route 31 near Elaine, Arkansas. The three escapees, each kidnapped from a different part of the United States, realize their situation’s similarity to the conspiracy theory “Manorgate”. One of the three eats a donut and collapses, and Ma and Pop (who are amongst the captors’ ranks) reveal the donut has powdered cyanide, and kill the rest by poison gas. They then clean up the station for the next person to come in.
A fourth captive, Afghanistan veteran Crystal Creasey, arrives. Asking for cigarettes and their location, she makes conversation with Ma and Pop, and the latter get nervous. Crystal then attacks and kills the couple with a sawed-off shotgun the couple had under the counter; she reveals that the cigarettes were too expensive for Arkansas. Inspecting the pickup truck outside, she finds a Croatian licence plate underneath a fake Arkansas plate, and an explosive booby-trap. She later encounters another captive; a conspiracy theorist podcaster named Gary, and warns him off from taking the truck. They board a train car full of refugees, whom Gary believes to be crisis actors; the train is then raided by Croatian soldiers. When Gary tries to convince the soldiers of Manorgate and the refugees’ perfidy, a refugee, “Crisis Mike” admits to Gary that he and only he is an actor, but says the raid was not planned for, and offers a head start for Gary’s cooperation. Gary uses a grenade the actor had hidden to kill him, and Crystal is taken to a refugee camp.
Crystal meets another escaped prisoner named Don at the camp, and Oliver, an envoy from the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb, arrives to take them to the embassy. On the drive there, Oliver probes into why they were ‘selected’ for the hunt; suspicious, Crystal kicks Oliver out of the car and runs him over. She and Don find Gary’s body in the trunk with a map. Crystal tells Don the story of “the Jackrabbit and the Box Turtle,” a version of The Tortoise and the Hare in which the Jackrabbit kills the Box Turtle after losing. At the envoy’s intended destination (which is shown to be close to where the captives originally found the weapons cache and were subsequently killed), Crystal kills the hunters she finds and wounds their consultant Sgt. Dale. Athena calls out to Don via radio, asking if he killed Crystal. When Don refuses to disarm, Crystal kills him. Crystal tortures the wounded Sgt. Dale to get Athena’s location and after telling him that she fought in Afghanistan, kills him.
A flashback reveals that Athena’s group text exchange was a joke. However, it was leaked on the internet, creating furore over “Manorgate”. Subsequently, the group text’s participants, whose lives were all ruined, decide to make Manorgate come true. They abducted people who shared and produced materials relating to Manorgate. Athena is personally offended by a social media post Crystal had made about her, and insists on her inclusion.
When Crystal confronts Athena, Athena mocks Crystal’s personal history. Crystal tells Athena that she’s confused her for another Crystal from the same town as her, whose surname is spelt Creasy. Crystal and Athena get into a fight, impaling one another on the two blades of a food processor; Athena dies, but Crystal gets a second wind upon seeing a jackrabbit near where Athena’s body lay only a moment prior. She fixes herself up, takes Athena’s dog, and leaves on her jet.
We open on a text chain between a group of people. The texters decry the state of the nation and the presidency. The texters then discuss their excitement at the idea of hunting “deplorables.”
We cut to a private plane where obscenely wealthy individuals are enjoying caviar and champagne. They talk in awed tones about the trip they are going on arranged by their benefactor, Athena (will reveal the actress later in this plot summary as they save the casting reveal until the end). Suddenly, a drugged man bursts into the cabin in a state of distress. The passengers struggle with him and, eventually, the doctor stabs him in the neck. The man stumbles back out of the cabin to another part of the plane where he dies. We see several other drugged bodies on the floor of the plane.
We jump ahead to see a woman (Emma Roberts) awaken in a field with a gag locked onto her mouth. She stumbles around and sees another woman, Crystal (Betty Gilpin), also gagged. Crystal ignores the woman and uses a pin from a nametag on her shirt to pick the lock on her gag and make a compass before running off. The woman wanders into a field where she finds other gagged individuals standing around a giant crate. The woman finds some keys in a nearby trap door and the individuals unlock and remove their gags. None of them know each other or how they got there.
One of the men finally opens the crate and finds a pig and a cache of weapons inside. They begin arming themselves when, suddenly, people begin shooting at them. The woman is one of the first to die. Another woman falls into a pit trap and is impaled by a spike. She is rescued by one of the men (Justin Hartley) but they are then blown up after stepping on a land mine. The rest of the group scatters.
We follow four of the escapees (including Ike Barinholtz, Sturgill Simpson, and Kate Nowlin). They come to a fence and begin climbing over it to the main road. One of them is killed via bow and arrow while trying to escape. The remaining three stumble to a gas station ran by an elderly couple (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney). The escapees learn they are in Arkansas. One of them claims that they have been chosen by elite liberals to be hunted because they are conservatives. One of the escapees who had been munching on some donuts suddenly begins convulsing, having been poisoned by the food. The elderly couple shoots another escapee and use gas bombs to kill the third They then radio some compatriots, confirming that they are indeed elite liberals hunting conservatives.
Soon, Crystal walks into the gas station. The elderly couple try to pull the same ruse on her that they did on the other escapees, but she realizes they are hunters and kills them both. She avoids opening the door to a truck that is booby trapped to explode and takes out a drone that is being operated by one of the other hunters. Crystal discovers that she is not in Arkansas, but in a foreign country (later revealed to be Croatia).
Crystal comes across another escapee, Gary (Ethan Suplee). They jump onto a passing train and meet a group of refugees thereon. Gary accuses the refugees of being “crisis actors” pretending to be refugees. Before Gary can shoot them, the train is stopped by Croatian soldiers. One of the refugees suddenly reveals to Crystal and Gary that he is a hunter but that the others are actually refugees and that these are really Croatian soldiers. The hunter asks for their help to escape, but Gary just sticks a grenade in the hunter’s pants (that kills him when it explodes). Gary escapes in the ensuing panic while Crystal is detained by Croatian forces after staying behind to shield the refugees from the blast.
Crystal is stuck in a detainment center where the Croatian authorities seem skeptical of her story. In the camp, she meets another escapee named Don (Wayne Duvall). A man from the US embassy arrives and takes the pair out of the detention center. On the way to the airport, the embassy man insists that the pair tell him what they did wrong. His incessant questioning leads Crystal to realize he is a hunter, so she kills him (she also finds Gary’s dead body in the trunk alongside bribe money, confirming her suspicions). As Crystal considers what to do next, she tells Don the story of the tortoise and the hare that her mom told her as a kid. In this version, the hare kills the tortoise and the family after losing the race, because the hare always wins.
Eventually, Crystal and Don sneak up on the bunker where the liberals have lain in wait. They kill one of the men (Glenn Howerton) by slitting his throat. Crystal then breaks into the bunker and kills everyone inside, demonstrating military skills during her attack. Athena’s voice comes in on the radio in the bunker asking Don if he’s handled the situation. Hearing Athena’s message, Crystal kills Don in case he is one of the hunters (it is never definitively stated whether Don was a hunter or a fellow victim and Athena was simply lying). Crystal then tracks Athena down to a manor in the woods. Athena opens the gate to let her in only after Crystal tosses her weapons away.
The film jumps back one year. Athena (revealed finally to be played by Oscar winner Hilary Swank) is an executive at a major corporation. It turns out that she was one of the liberals in the text conversation that opened the movie. The texts have been leaked and conservatives have started a national outcry over the content. Athena explains that the texts were just a joke and they would never hunt anyone. The Board doesn’t care that it was just a joke and demand she resigns, just as everyone else on the texts have done.
Four months after that, the liberal elites have been training for revenge (although Athena is the most committed). Their revenge is that they will, in fact, hunt conservatives just as they have been falsely accused of doing. They identify twelve conservatives who have been most instrumental in bringing them down and spreading the conspiracy theory that the elites were hunting conservatives. These twelve individuals were the ones that had been flown to Croatia and hunted. Crystal specifically singled out Athena in her social media post, and that’s why she was picked.
Returning to the present day, Athena explains to Crystal why she was chosen. Crystal says that they got the wrong person, that they wanted a Crystal with a similar name to hers. Athena doesn’t believe her and the pair engage in a big battle. Ultimately, Athena stabs Crystal with a blender blade. But Crystal is able to grab Athena and stab her with the other end of the blade. The women collapse as they begin bleeding to death. Athena asks Crystal to tell her the truth about her identity, and Crystal repeats that she is not the person who mocked Athena online. Athena then dies.
As Crystal is about to die, she sees a hare enter the house. Remembering her mother’s words that the hare always wins, she gets back up and treats her wounds. Crystal then puts on one of Athena’s dresses, grabs an obscenely expensive bottle of champagne, and walks to the plane. She intimidates the pilot into taking her home. Then she and the flight attendant begin eating caviar and drinking the champagne.