In the wake of three back-to-back mass shootings and criticism from Donald Trump, Universal ultimately decided to shelve Craig Zobel’s The Hunt. The film was obviously meant to provoke audiences by tapping into our current political climate, but in a new interview, Zobel explained how he never meant for the film to be anything other than a piece of pointed commentary.
The film centered around a group of powerful elites who hunt unsuspecting, kidnapped people allegedly referred to as “deplorables” in the script—written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof. “Our ambition was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally,” Zobel told Variety. “We seek to entertain and unify, not enrage and divide. It is up to the viewers to decide what their takeaway will be.” But the Variety piece reminds us the film wasn’t at the stage where it was being screened for critics yet.
Universal has not screened the film for critics, so the political content of the final cut is still largely a matter of conjecture. An early draft of the script obtained by Variety makes clear that the original intention was to depict working-class conservatives as the heroes. They are kidnapped and hunted by “liberal elites,” one of whom says “Climate change is real” before blowing his victim away. One of the good guys talks about the “Deep State,” and another fantasizes about going on “Hannity” to expose the conspiracy.
For his part Zobel said while the decision to put the film on pause was a difficult one, he agreed with the studio’s choice given the circumstances:
I was devastated by going to sleep to El Paso and waking up to Dayton.
These types of moments happen far too often. In the wake of these horrific events, we immediately considered what it meant for the timing of our film. Once inaccurate assumptions about the content and intent of the movie began to take hold, I supported the decision to move the film off its release date.
Zobel also added that he still believes The Hunt has something to say about our polarized society:
I wanted to make a fun, action thriller that satirized this moment in our culture — where we jump to assume we know someone’s beliefs because of which ‘team’ we think they’re on… and then start shouting at them. This rush to judgment is one of the most relevant problems of our time.
Going forward, it’s unclear what’s going to become of the film and whether Universal will ever feel it should be released in theaters or for home viewing. Which is a shame, considering we could all stand to see more of Betty Gilpin kicking all kinds of ass.
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