“The Hunt” is back on.
After canceling last year’s planned September release of the R-rated Blumhouse Productions satire in the wake of mass shooting tragedies in El Paso; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California — as well as criticism from conservative media and President Trump — Universal Pictures is now resuming plans to release “The Hunt” in theaters.
The reversal was announced Tuesday with a new March 13 release date and a fresh trailer that describes “The Hunt,” about a group of strangers who discover they’re the targets in a deadly game, as “the most talked about movie no one has seen.”
“You can’t have had happen what happened and pretend it didn’t happen,” producer Jason Blum said of the new campaign following a private screening of the film at Universal this week.
Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah,” “Compliance”) directed “The Hunt” from a screenplay by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (HBO’s “Watchmen”). “Glow” star Betty Gilpin leads a cast that includes Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton and Hilary Swank.
The new trailer leans into the controversy over the film’s “deplorables” versus “elites” premise (“every year these liberal elites kidnap a bunch of normal folks … and hunt us for sport,” explains one character), while playing up the film’s comedic bent and clarifying that the politically liberal hunters are not heroes.
“The movie was always meant to be absurdist,” Lindelof said after the screening. “Nick and I never described the movie as a comedy-thriller, but it is a satire.”
The reboot of the film’s marketing strategy follows a media firestorm that erupted last year. An initial trailer released in late July teased the premise with more ambiguity. When a Hollywood Reporter article citing the movie’s script revealed explosive lines of dialogue apparently aimed at President Trump and his supporters (“nothing better than … slaughtering a dozen deplorables” is a line that appears in a text message from Swank’s lead villain), the film became the focus of intense scrutiny from conservative media outlets.
While the reports from people who had not seen the film were swirling, Trump took to Twitter to criticize “liberal Hollywood” and said, “The movie coming out is made in order … to inflame and cause chaos.” He did not name the film directly but the comments were widely read as being aimed at “The Hunt.”
At that point, Universal had already paused the marketing campaign following the mass shootings. The studio then canceled the film’s planned Sept. 27 release.
According to Blum, the question was never if “The Hunt” would be released but when. And though it would have been possible to distribute the movie via streaming or other means, he believes the film is a “theatrical event” in the purest sense. A marketing campaign will now begin in earnest, with trailers targeted to other upcoming Blumhouse titles including this weekend’s “Fantasy Island” and the Feb. 28 Universal thriller “The Invisible Man.”
Even with a new sales pitch, “The Hunt” is still the same film that would have opened in September. Those contentious lines of dialogue remain, and both conservative and liberal characters are dispatched with gory abandon (there is more than one exploding head).
Lindelof says he’s curious to see how moviegoers will react, but notes, “I don’t think people will be picketing this movie or saying it’s dangerous or harmful.” Blum added that test screening audiences who had seen the film before it was pulled gave it high marks and didn’t mention the political content in their reactions. (A studio source confirmed that politics were not a concern for test audiences.)
Indeed, the context of the film’s premise, and the dialogue in question, are key. The underlying message “The Hunt” delivers is about the danger of making presumptions in a climate in which social, cultural and political divisions can escalate into violence.
While “The Hunt” comments on the times, Blumhouse is no stranger to melding provocative, socially relevant themes with more traditional genre elements. The company’s extensive slate in recent years has included the Oscar-winning “Get Out” from Jordan Peele and “BlacKkKlansman” from Spike Lee; the “Purge” franchise; the blockbuster remake of “Halloween”; and December’s feminist reworking of the slasher “Black Christmas.”
Having dealt with the frustration of their film being debated and discussed by people who hadn’t seen it, Blum and Lindelof hope audiences are ready to watch “The Hunt” and judge for themselves. And they do mean everyone.
Thinking back on how he felt when he heard the president was tweeting about one of his movies, Blum said: “My overwhelming feeling was trying to figure out how we could get the president to see this movie.”