The Hunt co-writer and producer Damon Lindlelof admits that he was blindsided by the outrage aimed at his controversial thriller after the release of the film's first trailer late last summer. Amid deafening backlash, the movie was painted by the media and politicians as a violent fantasy — keyword "fantasy" — about liberal elites who hunt "deplorables" for sport.
The fuss hit a fever pitch when President Donald Trump lashed out against the film on Twitter, saying it was made "to inflame and cause chaos." Universal soon cancelled the Sept. 27 release due to sensitivity concerns in the wake of devastating mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.
"It was very surreal, and nobody saw it coming," Lindlelof (Lost, Watchmen) told Yahoo Entertainment about the blowback over The Hunt, which Universal reinstated for release this Friday (watch above).
"We were taking the movie off the schedule anyway, but it certainly amplified it," said producer Jason Blum. "I feel the same way about the president's tweet that I do anyone else, and I hope the president someday sees the movie. And if we had to do it over again, I would have done it differently, like we're doing the second time. Which is really showing people the movie first, showing the media the movie first, before we release marketing materials, so people are talking about something they've actually seen. … The frustrating thing, and it was frustrating and disappointing and all those things to take the movie off the schedule, was that everyone was jumping to conclusions about something that they had not seen."
In reality, The Hunt is a violent, over-the-top satire about the deep divide in 21st century America between conservatives and progressives, red states and blue. If there's anyone you're rooting for in the movie, it's certainly not the liberal elites, unlikable and cartoonish snobs who represent the idea of answering debate with bloodshed. It's much more likely the hunted, on the run for their lives in the latest nod to the seminal 1924 RIchard Connell short story "The Most Dangerous Game," which also inspired films like Hard Target (1993) and Surviving the Game (1994).
Lindlelof never considered that this more politically-driven take "was a hot potato," he said. Or "the idea that the movie is dangerous or provocative or that it takes sides, all these things that we took great pains to avoid. It's a satire, it's fun, it's entertaining. … The hero of the movie is apolitical."
That hero is Crystal, a war veteran from Mississippi who has the wherewithal and abilities to turn the tables on her adversaries, making the hunters the hunted. In a fierce performance drawing wide critical acclaim, she's played by Emmy-nominated Glow actress Betty Gilpin.
"The joy of the movie is not knowing what's going to happen next," Gilpin said. "So it made it that much more frustrating that all this wildly incorrect information was surrounding it. But I do think that it makes the viewing experience kind of that much more delicious and insane now."
Universal's new wave of marketing for the film, which has not been edited since the original release plan, leans heavily into the controversy, with media quotes on the poster like "A DISTURBANCE TO OUR COUNTRY" and "SHOWS HOLLYWOOD FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS, DEMENTED AND EVIL."
Still, the shock of making national headlines for all the wrong reasons clearly still weighs on its filmmakers.
"When what happened happened, it was a bit surprising," Lindlelof said. "I understand now, given the circumstances why it happened, but at the time it was occurring I was like, 'I can't believe they're talking about our movie. Because it's not the movie we made, it's the movie they think we made.'"
The Hunt opens Friday.
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