Thoughts & Preys: After recent tragedies, ‘The Hunt’ is… off…

Deplorable? 'The Hunt', a high-concept, visceral thriller that sees humans hunting each other amid their political differences has been pulled by Universal Pictures. But no-one seems satisfied...

The latest gun-massacre tragedies to make news across America and beyond have caused much consternation, differences of opinion and – somewhat predictably – both sides of the gun-control debate to loudly express their views.

The fate of The Hunt has been an interesting sideshow. Made by Blumhouse, the home of cutting-edge twisted cultural tales such as The Purge, Insidious, Glass, Ma and Get Out, (as well as more conventional fare such as the award-winning Whiplash and Black KKKlansman) and set to be released by Universal Pictures The Hunt was always a production with a high-concept premise designed to invoke a gut reaction and deliberate controversy. Penned by Damon Lindelof and directed by Craig Zobel, it tells the story of an annual hunt run by a group of wealthy elites – but their quarry is not animals, it’s humans: kidnapped and ‘released’ onto a private estate where they can be pursued and killed. The film follows the runners’ battle for survival and the further problems that arise when several of the people being hunted manage to turn the tables on their enemy and decide on an equally visceral revenge.

In the wake of the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Blumhouse and Universal Pictures made the decision to pull tv spots for the film (which was originally due to be released on  27th September) but it was not in time to stop some commentators asking questions about the movie and its level of violence. Though filmed last year and earmarked for a September release some time ago, it was clear that even if the ‘R’-rated film was received in the spirit of dark, violent satire, its depiction of bloodthirsty retribution might not be well received in the days immediately following a national tragedy.  But beyond that, there also seemed to be a fundamental consternation of the film’s basic story.  Some outlets ignored the ‘savagery comes in all forms‘ aspect of the plot’s story about cultural / political animosity taken to extreme by both sides and instead claimed that the film was simply about a ‘group of liberals elitists hunting deplorables‘  and complained that it might encourage attacks on people who supported Trump.  They also suggested the studio hadn’t made the decision to cancel the ads but that outlets such as ESPN had pulled them.  While ESPN had reconsidered a previously cleared trailer, it was Universal that decided to pull the commercials.

President Trump quickly added some comments on his twitter feed:  “Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves ‘Elite,’ but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order… to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!

Universal Pictures, who were distributing the Blumhouse made film issued a statement: “While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for ‘The Hunt,’ after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film. We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”

The film’s star, Oscar-winner Hilary Swank told industry site Variety that there was a lot of commentary going on from people who hadn’t actually seen the film:  “No one’s seen the film,” she noted.  You can’t really have a conversation about it without understanding what it’s about,”

It seems likely that the subject-matter and the decision to flip the antagonist/protagonist factor were deliberately inflammatory and the decision to delay the film’s release was probably the right one in this case. However the outcry over a fictional film featuring a large amount of gun-toting violence at the same time as pro-gun supporters defend the right to own and use assault-rifles without an increase in safety-checks, could be seen as at least a little ironic… and overlooks the fact that some of the captured characters the audience is being asked to support are actually Republicans fighting back against their captors…

You can’t see the film, but you can  see the bloody trailer here: