It's hard to say if The Hunt would have caused quite as much commotion if it had simply been released as scheduled and the world hadn't inadvertently exploded just as it was supposed to come out. In the end, the film, which is now set for release next week, may actually end up doing better at the box office than it otherwise might have, as some might just be curious what all the fuss is about.
Originally set for release in September of 2019, The Hunt was pulled from Universal's schedule following the August 3 mass shooting at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas. The shooting was motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment, and so it was felt by many that the film, which appeared to be focused on political divisions leading to violence, was in bad taste.
While it was unclear then if The Hunt would ever see the light of day, the film has been put back on the release schedule and director Craig Zobel is now speaking about the entire experience of the response to the film and the delay. Interestingly, Zobel admits that part of the problem that the movie had was a self-inflicted wound, as he says The Hunt's first trailer did itself no favors. According to the director...
I was a little surprised by the first trailer. The advertising certainly didn’t help us, because it didn’t quite tell the story. People were able to misinterpret things because they didn’t have any information other than what was in the trailer, which was not all of the information, for sure.
The first trailer for The Hunt set up a premise in which it appeared that "elite liberals" were capturing and hunting "regular people" for sport. Craig Zobel tells Playboy that the trailer didn't really tell the story, and a second trailer, released last month, would seem to back that up. It implies that the "hunting conservatives for sport" thing may not be entirely on the level. Or maybe it is. It's hard to say.
The actual people responsible for making a movie are rarely directly involved in cutting trailers, and as such, they can end up looking quite different from a final film. Obviously, somebody on the marketing side of things thought that was the best way to promote The Hunt, and certainly it did get people talking, though maybe not in the best way.
Although, the trailer was certainly not the only strike against the film early on. One rumor, which seemed supported by that first trailer, was that, before being called The Hunt, the movie went by the clearly and intentionally divisive title of Red State vs. Blue State. Craig Zobel says that was simply untrue...
That title became one of the reasons it was seen as such an incendiary, bad movie. I remember calling Nick and Damon and asking, ‘Was it ever called Red State vs. Blue State?’ Nick’s like, ‘No, that’s a terrible name for a movie.’ So that was just made up, and then I have people tweeting at me, ‘You want to make a movie about red state vs. blue state? We’ll show you red state vs. blue state.’
So The Hunt found itself in hot water in part because of a potential own goal from the trailer, combined with a rumor that was apparently just false. Whatever the reason, following a controversy that even saw the President of the United States weigh in, the movie was pulled from the release calendar and until that new trailer hit a couple weeks back, we weren't sure if we would ever see it. For good or ill, Craig Zobel is just happy the movie is finally coming out. At least now the movie can be judged for what it is, rather than what people seem to think it is.
Hearing that Universal had decided to date the film for release again was a feeling of relief. Most of all, it’s been a challenge to talk about your intentions with a project when nobody can actually see the project. I’m excited to get the film out there where everyone can make decisions about it for themselves.
We'll all have that chance March 13.