NEW YORK (AP) – Last fall, the violent satire â€œThe Huntâ€ became ensnarled by some of the very politics it so playfully parodies.
Universal Pictures pulled â€œThe Huntâ€ from release after a series of deadly shootings and wave of right-wing criticism, including from President Trump. He called it a movie â€œmade in order to inflame and cause chaos.â€ Conservative commentators came out in force against it. Fox Newsâ€™ Dan Bongino declared that “the Hollywood hate machine appears to be taking its anti-Trump derangement syndrome to disturbing new levels.”
Now, the makers of â€œThe Huntâ€ want a do-over. And they feel they have a movie worthy of not a second chance but a legitimate first impression.
The latest from the low-budget, high-impact horror production company Blumhouse Productions, â€œThe Huntâ€ isnâ€™t the liberal screed it was accused, sight unseen, of being. Itâ€™s a heightened, bipartisan farce that puts the red-vs-blue vitriol of social media into a bloody action-movie blender.
The film, penned by Damon Lindelof (â€œWatchmen,â€ â€œLostâ€) and Nick Cuse, is a loose take on â€œThe Most Dangerous Game,â€ in which wealthy liberals kidnap a dozen â€œrednecksâ€ and â€œdeplorablesâ€ to hunt on a private preserve. That may sound one-sided – its summary helped stoke the controversy – but â€œThe Huntâ€ lampoons the left as much (if not more so) than the right.
Itâ€™s an absurdist melee in which liberals smugly brag of a tweet liked by Ava DuVernay and shout â€œClimate change is real!â€ while hunting their prey, and conservatives blame â€œcrisis actorâ€ migrants and â€œgodless elites.â€ For anyone in the film spouting conspiracy theory or one-sided rhetoric, well, things donâ€™t end well.
“The Huntâ€ may have gone from the frying pan into the fire. It opens in theaters Friday just as coronavirus fears are spiking in the U.S. But its filmmakers are just happy â€œThe Huntâ€ is seeing the light of day.
â€œItâ€™s coming out on Friday the 13th. It already is a zombie. It died and it is now back to life,â€ says Lindelof, whoâ€™s also a producer on the film. â€œI feel like itâ€™s a huge victory that itâ€™s just being released. Everything else is gravy.â€
Universal initially pulled ads for â€œThe Huntâ€ last year after a pair of shootings on Aug. 3, one at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, the other in downtown Dayton, Ohio. The timing wasnâ€™t right for a movie that conflated gun violence with sport. Once the movie became a target of political debate, the Sept. 27 release date was canceled. Jason Blum, founder and chief of Blumhouse and a producer on â€œThe Hunt,â€ says that decision was unanimous.
â€œBut it was always the plan to bring it back,â€ says Blum, who adds â€œnot one frame, not one lineâ€ of the film has since been changed. â€œEverybody jumped to conclusions about what the movie was and nobody had seen the movie.â€
Still, the backlash caught the filmmakers off guard.
â€œI know this sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but I was genuinely surprised when what happened happened,â€ says Lindelof. â€œIâ€™m not someone who views myself as a provocateur. I knew that this movie was playing in quote-unquote â€˜dangerousâ€™ territory, but I didnâ€™t think that the movie was in and of itself dangerous or was advancing some sort of dangerous message.â€
Made for about $15 million, â€œThe Huntâ€ was inspired in part by Jordan Peeleâ€™s â€œGet Out.â€ Lindelof and Cuse were jolted by its combination of social satire, thriller and horror. They endeavored to channel the extreme divisions of American politics – and their own liberal biases – into something that audiences from both sides of the aisle could laugh at.
â€œAs a liberal myself, I feel like I have more license to make fun of myself and the people I spend time with because I know them better,â€ says Lindelof. â€œOne of our weak spots, as a broad generality, is that we donâ€™t have a great sense of humor about ourselves about certain things and we do tend to be too finger-waggy at points. So I took those things that I donâ€™t like about myself and made them the villain of the movie.â€
The movieâ€™s star is Betty Gilpin, who plays Crystal, one of the hunted. Sheâ€™s ex-military, largely disinterested in politics and, through grit and cunning, turns the table on her captors, ultimately facing off with the group’s leader (Hilary Swank). In a bit of wry casting, the native New Yorker Gilpin (â€œGLOWâ€) is playing a Southerner, and Swank, whoâ€™s from Nebraska, plays a big city liberal.
Itâ€™s a confident, star-making performance by Gilpin. â€œWhen the movie was canceled, that was the thing that I was most sad about,â€ says Lindelof. â€œPeople arenâ€™t going to get to see what Betty did.â€
Universal has revamped the marketing for â€œThe Hunt,â€ making its satirical nature more evident and playing up the past controversy. Trailers call it â€œthe most talked about movie of the year is one that no oneâ€™s actually seen.â€
Craig Zobel, the filmâ€™s director, thinks the uproar was, in its way, perfect.
â€œWe were living through a version of what happens in â€˜The Hunt,â€™ in a way,â€ says Zobel. â€œThe movie has kind of proved its own thesis.â€
That thesis could be said to be that extreme partisanship will only lead to our mutual destruction.
â€œWeâ€™re about to go into a fall that will be a torrent of media aimed to divide us during this election,â€ Zobel says. â€œI think itâ€™s the perfect time for this movie to come out.â€
Few would call this weekend an ideal moment for any movie. With the spread of the coronavirus, health experts are advocating social distancing to limit exposure.
â€œI have more anxiety about people getting sick than if they go to the movies,â€ says Blum. â€œItâ€™s too late because the media has been spent. But if youâ€™re asking me if I had a crystal ball, is now a good time to release a movie? The answer is no. But thereâ€™s no way to reverse it because youâ€™ve spent the media and youâ€™ve got to go forward.â€
Lindelof is pleased mainly that â€œThe Huntâ€ will finally be judged for its merits, not the chatter around it.
â€œIâ€™ve only always wanted the conversation to be: Is this movie good or not?â€
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP