The filmmaker behind “The Hunt,” a shelved “satire” about a group of bloodthirsty “liberal elites” who set out to slay so-called “deplorables,” is attempting to set the record straight about his controversial flick.
Director Craig Zobel (“The Leftovers”) told Variety in an email, “If I believed this film could incite violence, I wouldn’t have made it.”
Sources claim the violent, political themes of “The Hunt,” starring Hillary Swank and Betty Gilpin (“Glow”), did not sit well with test audiences earlier this month, and it was ultimately put on hold by Universal Pictures on Aug. 10 following considerable media backlash — and even a few death threats — especially in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which left 31 people dead.
Universal Studios says claims that the movie didn’t test well are unfounded.
“While some outlets have indicated that test screenings for ‘The Hunt’ resulted in negative audience feedback; in fact, the film was very well received and tallied one of the highest test scores for an original Blumhouse film,” a spokesperson said. “Additionally, no audience members in attendance at the test screening expressed discomfort with any political discussion in the film.”
They go on to set the record straight that the studio never used the alleged politically charged working title for the script, “Red State vs. Blue State,” adding that “that was never the working title for the film … nor appeared on any status reports under that name.”
Zobel says he supported Universal’s decision to suspend marketing of “The Hunt.”
“I was devastated by going to sleep to El Paso and waking up to Dayton,” he wrote. “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.”
The creators of “The Hunt” had hoped the film would be seen as “satire,” and insist they intended to rib partisans on both sides of the aisle. According to Variety, an early draft of the film’s script features blue-collar conservatives as heroes, fighting for their lives against deranged progressives, one of whom cheers “Climate change is real!” before slaughtering his target. The protagonists also touch upon conservative talking points, such as a government “Deep State,” and idolize Fox News personalities.
“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,” said Zobel. “This rush to judgment is one of the most relevant problems of our time.”
Zobel, now a victim of the very culture he set out to satirize, hopes this controversy will spark a conversation.
“My hope would be that people will reflect on why we are in this moment, where we don’t have any desire to listen to each other,” he said. “And if I’m lucky, some of us will ask each other: ‘How did we get here? And where do we want to go moving forward?’ “
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