Universal pulls The Hunt after most recent deadly mass shootings [Updated]

[Update: 1:35pm ET, August 10, 2019] Universal Pictures has now pulled the planned September 27 release of its satirical thriller, , Deadline Hollywood reports. Here is the studio’s statement:

While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for , after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film.

  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.

Co-star Hilary Swank, appearing at the Locarno Film Festival, declined to discuss or the surrounding controversy, according to Variety. However, she did say, “No one’s seen the film. You can’t really have a conversation about it without understanding what it’s about.”

My take: Swank is correct that it’s a bit unfair to pass judgement on a film few people have actually seen. Trailers are just marketing tools and can often be quite different in tone from the actual film. That said, this is probably a smart move on the part of Universal, given the current socio-political climate.

Original story 1:45pm ET, August 8, 2019:

Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Universal Pictures has temporarily ceased its marketing campaign for its upcoming satirical thriller, , in the wake of three recent US mass shootings that claimed the lives of more than 30 people. The film stars ‘s Betty Gilpin and Oscar winner Hilary Swank as two women from opposite ends of the political spectrum hunting each other—essentially a modern update of the classic short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

“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,” a representative for the studio told Deadline.

Delays like this have become something of a standard operating procedure for Hollywood over the last 20+ years as the industry grapples with how to navigate the dark reality of gun violence in America. Back in 1999, for instance,  postponed airing the episode “Earshot” in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre. Warner Bros postponed the release and recut a scene for its 2012 film because of the Aurora shooting. And just last year, the television adaptation of was pushed back, recut, and nearly cancelled in light of the Parkland shooting. When writing about Universal’s decision with  Deadline notes even more examples—from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  shifting after September 11, 2001 and the 2017  remake delayed following the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Written by ‘s Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse,  may have been primed for controversy even before real-world tragedies occurred. The film is about 12 strangers who wake up in a clearing with no idea where they are or how they got there. They soon discover they are “prey” at an exclusive resort called The Manor, where the -wealthy come to hunt human beings—although Hilary Swank’s high-end executive (who masterminded the whole thing) scoffs that they should hardly be considered “beings.” Things really get interesting when the “hunted” get their own weapons and start fighting back.

It’s not a particularly new idea since Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” was first published in 1924 and has spawned countless film and television interpretations of the basic concept over the ensuing decades. But there’s of course a twist in this case: the hunted all hail from red states (“deplorables”), and the hunters are purportedly “liberals”—albeit of the super-entitled -wealthy variety. “We pay for everything so the country belongs to us,” Swank’s character declares in the film’s trailer. Various teasers had previously aired on TV (including on CNN during the recent Democratic debates) and remain online (embedded below).

It’s worth noting that this character’s statement, and her refusal to see the hunted as fully human beings, are not even remotely representative of a liberal stance—nor a traditionally conservative one.

Needless to say, Fox News has been having a field day with the film’s story. We’ll wait to see the film and judge for ourselves whether it ultimately works as satirical entertainment or not, and whether it does, indeed, cross any cultural lines. As always, “good taste” can be very subjective—is any better or worse than franchise, for instance? (Jason Blum produced both, along with .) But given the current political environment headlined by peak partisan tensions and a nation trying to simultaneously grieve and seek solutions following recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California, Universal’s decision to pull back on its marketing campaign seems like a wise business decision.

For now, will still open as originally scheduled on September 27, 2019.

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