The hunt is off. Following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Universal has decided not to release the movie which was scheduled for September 27. In a statement on the film’s website, the studio said that it was “not the right time” for it to come out. Given marketing for the film had already been suspended, due to the trailer depicting gun violence, this was not surprising. Particularly after President Trump voiced what many have interpreted as his disapproval of it stating: “the movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos”.
Whether this means we will never see The Hunt, or if it will later show up on VOD, is anyone’s guess. Universal have 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”. Personally, I’d hope we see it. And as per The Interview, which was also shelved, perhaps we will after the controversy settles. The premise, which saw liberals hunting Trump supporters and killing them for sport, sounds obviously satirical and a call for unity during a time of political polarisation. In other words, a modern twist on The Most Dangerous Game. In that respect, it could be a warning about the effects of divisive rhetoric and dehumanisation.
The rest of the synopsis implies this too. Seemingly the red-state voters get the upper-hand and fight back – making them the goodies. This is what we’d reasonably expect, and not dissimilar how the liberally minded Get Out placed its villains to the left. As per the upcoming Ready or Not (which has a similar setup, based on elites hunting poor people) the movie was never going to be told from the hunters’ side. That being said, perhaps there’d also be a hunter who switches sides, deciding it was wrong to hunt other humans down. Obviously, I can’t say without reading the script or seeing the film, but it’d be unprecedented for a mainstream horror to celebrate killing based on voting behaviour. It’s also co-written by Damon Lindelof, who’s a sophisticated enough writer not to condone violence against ideological opponents at face value.
The Hunt would not be the first film to deal with the so-called “culture war” in America. Movies like Ma and both Jordan Peele flicks have referenced it indirectly, while recent entries in The Purge franchise have done so with less tact. And even if The First Purge did so very clumsily, it was at least ostensibly anti-violence. However, what’d make this film different is any use of MAGA iconography, or if the name Donald Trump appears. If this were the case, perhaps it makes commercial sense to delay the release. Yes, one of these attacks came from a white supremacist, who aligned himself with vs against the commander in chief. However, personalising the hunt in this way is potentially politically dangerous at a time when tribalism is a social problem.
Yet to take my blogger cap off for a moment as I ascend my soapbox, a potential negative consequence is that without further clarity those who oppose the film get to decide what it’s about. And this means it may be falsely used by people looking to use a victimhood mentality to imply the entertainment industry is overrun by liberals intent on promoting deadly attacks on conservatives. If this is not the case, and the movie uses the story to comment on the consequences of political violence vs glorify it, Universal need to take control of the narrative. Especially if the wealthy blue-state hunters are the threat. Horror and politics have been bedfellows for a while. From Godzilla characterising the dangers of nuclear war, to the anti-Vietnam messages of Night of the Living Dead and the War on Terror imagery of the torture movement, the genre has always commented on social fears. As such, it’s maybe ironic that a film is been put aside for having too much contemporary relevance: a sign that maybe it ought to be released.
Of course, I could be wrong. It’s improbable, but not impossible, that the story asks us to sympathise with the hunters. And that the only negative bit of what they do is their methods aren’t effective enough to swing the result in 2020 – since they can only shoot so many people: a supposed tragedy one wealthy Dem considers as he realises they should have gone with bombs after all. In which case, I reserve the right to change my mind.