While there are many films in cinema history that found their initial release dates delayed due to various controversies, the case surrounding Craig Zobel’s The Hunt is particularly fascinating. Instead of people complaining about the actual movie (which hadn’t even screened when the hullaballoo started last summer), all of the issues raised pertained simply to the impression that certain individuals got watching the trailer and reading the brief available plot description.
This by itself isn’t particularly strange, but what makes the circumstances so crazy in retrospect is the fact that one of the key satirical targets in The Hunt is our current culture’s tendency toward impulsive judgement that can often have serious consequences.
Being particularly struck by this deep irony when seeing the movie last week, I felt compelled to ask about it when I participated in The Hunt’s Los Angeles press day and interviewed the film’s stars and filmmakers. Sitting down with co-writer Damon Lindelof and star Betty Gilpin as well as producer Jason Blum and co-star Ike Barinholtz, I brought up the controversy surrounding the release at the start of both conversations, and definitely sensed an appreciation from all of them for the meta-ness of the whole circumstance:
Co-written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, The Hunt begins as strangers wake up on an expansive estate after being drugged and kidnapped, eventually discovering that that are part of an event referred to by online conspiracy theorists as “Manorgate,” where conservatives are stalked and killed by rich liberal elites. What said elites don’t plan for, however, is a fly in the ointment in the form of Crystal a.k.a. Snowball (Betty Gilpin), who has the skills necessary to turn the game against the attackers and go after those who set her up for death.
The Hunt very much falls in line with a long tradition of big screen stories – including titles such as The Most Dangerous Game, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games – but its direct usage of contemporary political overtones instead of undertones wound up rubbing some people the wrong way when the film started its publicity and marketing campaign last summer. Making a series of broad assumptions, certain significant right wing voices suggested that the movie was glorifying violence against conservatives, and the noise was loud enough to get Universal Pictures to cancel the planned September 27, 2019 release date.
The catch is: A) the film definitely doesn’t glorify violence against anyone, instead taking an even-handed approach and criticizing both extremes of the political spectrum; and B) it’s less about murder and conspiracies than it is ultimately about the way the modern world digests information. Both the protagonists and the antagonists in The Hunt are guilty of making snap judgements that wind up costing numerous lives, and it’s crazy how well-matched those ideas are with the real-world assumptions that led to the original release date being killed.
And before you try and get conspiratorial about any of this, note that not a single edit was made to the movie in the last seven months, per Jason Blum, so it really is just a case of perfect irony.
It’s actually impressive just how deep it ultimately goes, and while saying much more than that right now would be taking a trip into spoiler-ville, audiences only have a short while to wait before they can experience all the surprises the film has in store for themselves. Following six months of sitting on a shelf, The Hunt will be playing in theaters around the country starting this Friday – and you’ll definitely want to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend in the coming days as we dig further into the movie’s excellent ending and post more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers.
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Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.