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The real problem with ‘The Hunt’ isn’t the politics

‘The Hunt’ made headlines for its political messages. But the film contains something much more concerning

SHARE The real problem with ‘The Hunt’ isn’t the politics
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin in a scene from “The Hunt.”

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin in a scene from “The Hunt.”

Associated Press

A woman wakes up in a field. She’s gagged. She stands to see she’s in a forest. People emerge from around her. Slowly, the group converges on a field of grass. A large wooden container awaits them. One young man pries it open. A pig runs out.

The man pulls out a shelf of weaponry. Handguns, assault rifles, knives aplenty.

Seconds later, the group of 10 or so individuals scatter as bullets fly around them. They duck behind trees. Some are killed, going down with guns blazing.

The woman runs away with a handsome man toward the forest. They hide behind the large wooden container, waiting for the bullets to pass.

But that’s when “The Hunt” takes one of its violent turns. The woman is gunned down. Blood splatters on the container and on the young man’s face. Seconds later, he steps on a mine.

“The Hunt” is a sort-of funny, sort-of odd, definitely violent film about a group of strangers who are hunted by a group of rich people. That’s the basic premise — and really the only way to describe the film without delving too much into spoilers.

In total, there are 10 massive acts of violence in the first 20 minutes. One character dies by suicide. Others are poisoned. Some are gunned down. One more is gassed. Eight characters die in the same time frame. Many of the depictions are gory and graphic.

“The Hunt” is a massively violent film — one that makes you forget the issues that made it so controversial in the first place. Which leaves me to wonder, why was there such concern about this film’s political messaging in the first place?

Why was ‘The Hunt’ so controversial?

Controversy surrounding “The Hunt” began in August 2019 when Universal Studios pulled ads and marketing for the film in the wake of mass shootings, which I wrote about at the time.

“Out of sensitivity to the attention on the country’s recent shooting tragedies, Universal Pictures and the filmmakers of ‘The Hunt’ have temporarily paused its marketing campaign and are reviewing materials as we move forward,” one studio representative told Deadline in a statement.

Universal pulled outdoor and TV ads for the film. ESPN took ads off its Aug. 3 broadcast, too.

But the film gained attention for being a satire about humans hunting down deplorables. The film — which for a moment was reportedly titled “Red State Vs. Blue State,” according to The Hollywood Reporter (though that was later dispelled) — upset social media users because of its political messaging, especially around the time of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, which led to 31 deaths combined.

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Justin Hartley, left, and Sylvia Grace Crim in a scene from “The Hunt.”

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Justin Hartley, left, and Sylvia Grace Crim in a scene from “The Hunt.”

AP

Less than a week after ads were pulled, Universal postponed the film’s September release date. No immediate plans were established to re-release it.

“While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for ‘The Hunt,’ after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film,” the company said. “We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”

President Donald Trump slammed the film at the time, too.

He said, “Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves ‘Elite,’ but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!”

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin in a scene from “The Hunt.” (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures via AP)

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin in a scene from “The Hunt.” (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures via AP)

AP

“The Hunt” director Craig Zobel said he didn’t believe the film would have any violent consequences.

“If I believed this film could incite violence, I wouldn’t have made it,” he told Variety.

“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,” Zobel said. “This rush to judgment is one of the most relevant problems of our time.”

What makes it a horrific film

But “The Hunt” is not really a “fun, action thriller.”

It certainly has a political message, though it struggles to bring it home. The film mainly suggests that liberals and conservatives jump to conclusions about each other without considering what’s real and what’s fake. The film posits that people create their own problems.

But it’s the violence that was the reason for the delay. The film opens on an airplane where a man dies from being stabbed in the neck with a pen and in the eye by a heel of a shoe.

It’s not a surprise, really, since “The Hunt” comes from Blumhouse Productions, which has released several horror films like “Paranormal Activity,” “Get Out” and “Sinister.” But the comedic nature of the film — though it really falls flat on that, too — and the political hype make the violence seem like a vast zag when you expected the film to zig.

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin, left, and Hilary Swank in a scene from “The Hunt.” (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures via AP)

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Betty Gilpin, left, and Hilary Swank in a scene from “The Hunt.” (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures via AP)

AP

Like “Joker” before it, “The Hunt” spends so much time focusing on shockingly violent ways to kill off its characters that the important messages of the film are thrown under the rug.

This film could have been a unifier. It could have presented a positive message about conservatives, liberals, deplorables, snowflakes — whatever new name we have for each other this week — coming together. It could have presented a message that we need to work together to face a common theme.

But the film decides to lean into the idea of division. By the end of the film, there are clearly two lanes — the elitist liberals and the underdog conservatives. The two sides battle it out for the final victory, something that makes you question your own ideals, values and morals, too. You’re forced to choose which side to root for.

Zobel, the film’s director, did hint that the film pokes fun at both sides and creates something to entertain rather than create division.

“Our ambition was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally,” he 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.”

Indeed, that’s a lazy move from the filmmakers — creating a film that pits two political sides against each other and not sending any sort of message. It’s creating a division, igniting rage in those who see it, without any real answer about what to do about it.

That said, the final scene of the film shows that it’s important to be kind to others. But at what cost? Death? Destruction? Splattered blood and gushed bodies? Is the film’s true message that the only way we’ll find peace is to end both sides of the political spectrum and start anew?

Maybe “The Hunt” wasn’t trying to go for any particular message. There’s a good chance that the film wanted to tell a quirky, funny story about humans hunting humans with a political twist. But the messages presented throughout are real in 2020. They are messages we’ll face this entire year with the upcoming 2020 elections, fear of a spreading pandemic and worries about the stock market and the economy.

Our world has become too divisive for a film to suggest violence cures all. We need something better than “The Hunt.”

We need an answer — not a search for one.