Normally, if a person with over 70 million Twitter followers mentions your movie, it’s a good thing. But when that person is the President of the United States and he says your movie is meant “to inflame and cause chaos” without even seeing it, it’s anything but. That happened last summer with Universal and Blumhouse’s The Hunt.
The film, directed by Craig Zobel, co-written by Damon Lindelof, and starring Hilary Swank, Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, and Emma Roberts, was criticised in the media for its seemingly shocking premise, which is that liberals hunt conservatives for sport. That criticism led to Donald Trump alluding to it on Twitter and as a result, Universal quickly pulled the marketing and cancelled its plans to release the film. Most thought that was the end of The Hunt. But now it’s back.
Last week, Universal dropped a new trailer for The Hunt along with announcing a release date, March 13. Yes, that soon. To mark the occasion, Universal showed the film to several outlets, including Gizmodo, and gave us the chance to talk to Lindelof and producer Jason Blum about it.
“I was surprised,” Lindelof said when asked about the controversy. “In hindsight, as it was happening. I completely understood why it was happening... [But] having seen it play in test screenings, it was just completely and totally beyond my understanding that the movie was controversial or provocative...It always felt so over the top and absurd, that it was entering into a dangerous space, or a controversial space, just completely threw me for a loop.”
Immediately after the film was pulled from its release, conversations began about when or if the film would be released again. The decision was yes, it would, but it wasn’t until the past several weeks when everyone decided the time was now and the route was theatrical.
“What works [now], theatrically, is a theatrical event,” Blum said. “And I just don’t know how you could better define a theatrical event than this movie.”
Justin Hartley and Emma Roberts in The Hunt. Photo: Patti Perret (Universal Pictures)
With this new trailer, as well as a new poster, the film’s marketing has changed completely. The new campaign leans heavily into the controversy (because why wouldn’t you?) and attempts to explain the tone and intentions of the movie a little more clearly. Yes, the most bare-bones description of the movie is about liberals hunting conservatives. But the movie isn’t pro-liberal, nor is pro-conservative. If anything, it’s anti-both of them, aiming to be a humorous, over-the-top action satire showing the worst extremes and how that can lead to major issues.
“There’s just been a big tonal shift,” Lindelof said. “And I think that this is not about mistakes being made or course corrections or damage control in so much as the movie was always meant to be absurdist...I think that the sense of play, the sense of absurdity, the over-the-top-edness of the movie were not being reflected the first time around, which is why it’s easier to understand what happened given its proximity to real-world events. The more heightened we sell the movie, the more reflective I think of the movie that we made is.”
In The Hunt, Glow’s Betty Gilpin plays Crystal, a mysterious woman who is one of 12 seemingly conservative people selected to be hunted by a group of rich liberals. However, almost all the characters are exaggerated stereotypes. The conservatives are people who have radical podcasts, are abrasive message board posters, go big-game hunting, and own copious amounts of guns. The liberals are wimpy wine snobs who fly in private jets, eat caviar, and check each other’s speech for anything remotely insensitive. Over the course of the movie, circumstances are uncovered that make it abundantly clear this movie has no political agenda beyond using those stereotypes and tropes as targets. In The Hunt, no one is immune from looking bad or being made fun of. The problem was, last year, there was no good way to tell people that.
“The most frustrating thing was that no one had seen the movie and everyone was rushing to judgement about what was in the movie without having seen it,” Blum said. “So that and particularly after we decided to take it off the schedule, it was incredibly frustrating because then not only we couldn’t say, ‘Well, wait and see,’ there wasn’t even the time that we had. So we had to balance our frustration with what was the route to pursue to get the movie out. So we had to bite our tongues until now.”
With a not-so-subtle poster like this, they certainly are not biting their tongues anymore.
Ultimately, the irony that a film that deals with cancel culture was cancelled is not lost on the filmmakers. But since that happened, not a frame of the movie has been changed – and everyone hopes the film’s release is all the answer anyone needs as proof that they stand by what’s in the movie.
“I think by virtue of us saying we want to release it, we are sticking our necks out and saying we think that the movie is worthy of people’s time,” Lindelof said. “I don’t think that the response to the movie is that it’s going to be provocative. I don’t think that people are going to be picketing this movie or saying that this movie is dangerous or harmful. And that feels like it was the narrative the first time around before anybody had seen it.”
“But I’ve been surprised before,” he continued. “It’s possible that people will see this movie and say it’s irresponsible or it’s a call to violence. And I want to be in dialogues with those people because I want to understand that better.”
Hilary Swank plays the evil ringleader in The Hunt. Photo: Patti Perret (Universal Pictures)
As for the President’s comments, Lindelof and Blum are both relieved that now there will be a chance to set the record straight. “The movie that he was talking about was not the movie that I feel that we made,” Lindelof said. “It was the movie that was being reported on. And so, if he had said ‘This is a piece of shit, I’m sorry I wasted my time’ – that would have felt better because at least he was talking about the movie.”
“That’s right,” Blum added. “My overwhelming [feeling], after my being surprised, was trying to figure out how we could get the President to see the movie.”
And soon, he can. The Hunt is coming to cinemas in the US on March 13. We're awaiting confirmation of a UK release date.