The Hunt (2020 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Craig Zobel|
|Music by||Nathan Barr|
|Edited by||Jane Rizzo|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$15.2 million|
The Hunt is a 2020 American horror thriller film[a] directed by Craig Zobel and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof. The film stars Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, and Hilary Swank. Jason Blum served as a producer under his Blumhouse Productions banner, along with Lindelof. Both Zobel and Lindelof have said that the film is intended as a satire on the profound political divide between the American left and right.
The film was first announced in March 2018, and the cast signed on a year later. Filming took place in New Orleans. The film was originally scheduled for release on September 27, 2019. However, following the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings in early August 2019, Universal Pictures decided to delay it. The film had also drawn criticism from pundits on both sides of the political aisle, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump, for its perceived targeting of red-state voters and depiction of "liberal elites."
The Hunt was theatrically released in the United States on March 13, 2020 by Universal Pictures and received mixed reviews from critics, grossing $15 million. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of most theatres within a week of the film's release, to which the film's financial shortcomings have largely been attributed. Universal made The Hunt available digitally on March 20.
In a group text, Athena Stone anticipates an upcoming hunt of "deplorables." Later, on her private jet, she kills a man who staggers out from the cargo hold.
Eleven captives wake up gagged, in a forest, for the hunt. In a clearing, they find a cache of weapons and keys to their gags, but upon retrieving them, five are killed by an unseen enemy.
Three captives escape over a barbed-wire fence to a service station. The station's owners, an elderly couple consisting of Miranda "Ma" and Julius "Pop", identify their location as a point on Route 31 near Elaine, Arkansas. The three escapees, each kidnapped from a different part of the United States, realize their situation's similarity to the conspiracy theory "Manorgate". One of the three eats a poisoned donut and collapses, while Ma and Pop (who are amongst the captors' ranks) kill the rest with poison gas. They then clean up the station for the next person to come in.
A fourth captive, Afghanistan War veteran Crystal Creasey, arrives. Asking for cigarettes and their location, she makes conversation with Ma and Pop, and the latter get nervous. Crystal then attacks and kills the couple with a sawed-off shotgun the couple had under the counter; she reveals that the cigarettes were too expensive for Arkansas.
Inspecting the pickup truck outside, she finds a Croatian licence plate underneath a fake Arkansas plate, and a booby-trap wired to the driver's door. She later encounters another captive; a conspiracy theorist podcaster named Gary, and warns him from taking the truck. They board a train car full of refugees, whom Gary believes to be crisis actors; the train is then raided by Croatian soldiers. When Gary tries to convince the soldiers of Manorgate and the refugees' perfidy, a refugee, "Crisis Mike" admits to Gary that he and only he is an actor, but says the raid was not planned for, and offers a head start for Gary's cooperation. Gary uses a grenade the actor had hidden to kill him, and Crystal is taken to a refugee camp.
Crystal meets another escaped prisoner named Don at the camp, and Oliver, an envoy from the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb, arrives to take them to the embassy. On the drive there, Oliver probes into why they were selected for the hunt; suspicious, Crystal kicks Oliver out of the car and runs him over. She and Don find Gary's body in the trunk with a box marked "bribe money" and a map. The faux envoy was one of the hunters.
Crystal tells Don the story of "the Jackrabbit and the Box Turtle," a version of The Tortoise and the Hare in which the Jackrabbit kills the Box Turtle after losing. At the envoy's intended destination (which is shown to be close to where the captives originally found the weapons cache and were subsequently killed), Crystal kills the hunters she finds and wounds their tactical consultant Sgt. Dale. Athena calls out to Don via radio, asking if he killed Crystal. When Don refuses to disarm, Crystal kills him. Crystal tortures the wounded Sgt. Dale to get Athena's location and after telling him that she fought in Afghanistan, kills him.
A flashback reveals that Athena's group text exchange was a joke. However, it was leaked on the internet, creating furor over "Manorgate". Subsequently, the group text's participants, whose careers were ruined, decide to make Manorgate come true. They abducted people who shared and produced internet materials relating to Manorgate. Athena is personally offended by a social media post Crystal had made about her, and insists on her inclusion, nicknaming her "Snowball".
When Crystal confronts Athena, Athena mocks Crystal's personal history. Crystal tells Athena that she's confused her with another Crystal from her hometown, but her middle name is spelled May, rather than Mae. Crystal and Athena get into a drawn out fight, eventually impaling one another on the two blades of a food processor; Athena dies, but Crystal gets a second wind upon seeing a jackrabbit appear near Athena's body. She cauterizes her wound, dresses in Athena's clothes, takes Athena's dog, and leaves on her jet.
- Betty Gilpin as Crystal Creasey
- Hilary Swank as Athena Stone
- Ike Barinholtz as Staten Island (Moses)
- Wayne Duvall as Don
- Ethan Suplee as Gary
- Emma Roberts as Yoga Pants
- Chris Berry as Target (Boxer)
- Sturgill Simpson as Vanilla Nice
- Kate Nowlin as Big Red (Molly)
- Amy Madigan as Ma
- Reed Birney as Pop
- Glenn Howerton as Richard
- Justin Hartley as Trucker (Shane) (uncredited)
- Sylvia Grace Crim as Dead Sexy
- Walker Babington as Bandana Man
- Jason Kirkpatrick as Randy
- Teri Wyble as Liberty
- Macon Blair as Fauxnvoy (Oliver)
- Usman Ally as Crisis Mike
- J. C. MacKenzie as Paul
- Steve Coulter as The Doctor (Ted)
- Dean West as Martin
- Steve Mokate as Sgt. Dale
- Hannah Aline as Kelly (Flight Attendant)
- Tadasay Young as Nicole
- Jim Klock as Capt. O'Hara
In March 2018, Universal Pictures acquired the rights to the film, and set Craig Zobel to direct it, from a script by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof. The original title of the script was initially reported as Red State Vs. Blue State, a reference to the red states and blue states. Later, Universal issued a statement denying that the film had ever had it as its working title. The elite hunters' reference to their quarry as "deplorables" is an allusion to the phrase "basket of deplorables," used by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 United States presidential election campaign to refer to half of the supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. An early draft of the script depicted working-class conservatives as the film's heroes.
In March 2019, Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, Ike Barinholtz, and Betty Gilpin were announced as being cast in the film. In April 2019, Amy Madigan, Jim Klock, Charli Slaughter, Steve Mokate, and Dean West were added as well. Hilary Swank's casting was announced in July. Filming began on February 20, 2019, in New Orleans, and was completed on April 5.
The film was scheduled for release on September 27, 2019. It was, for a time, moved back to October 18 before shifting back to September 27. On August 7, 2019, Universal announced that in the wake of the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings, they would be suspending the film's promotional campaign. Several days later, the film was pulled from the studio's release schedule.
In February 2020, the studio announced that the film would be released on March 13, 2020 (Friday the 13th) in the U.S., with a new trailer, partially in response to the success of the similarly controversial film Joker. Producer Jason Blum stated in an interview that "not one frame was changed" since the delay and that it was "exactly the same movie."
In mid-March 2020, movie theaters began to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three days after the film's release, on March 16, 2020, Universal Pictures announced that the film would be available digitally through Premium VOD in the United States and Canada on March 20, before the end of the usual 90-day theatrical run. This was also the case for the studio's other films such as The Invisible Man and Trolls World Tour.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote that there were a pair of test screenings for the film which garnered "negative reactions." The second screening was held on August 6, 2019, in Los Angeles, in which "audience members were again expressing discomfort with the politics" of it, an issue Universal had not foreseen (although other studios had initially passed on the script for that reason). In a statement to Variety, Universal pushed back on a report that test audiences had been uncomfortable with the film's political slant, and also countered claims that the script had originally had an explicitly political title. "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 Universal spokesperson said. "Additionally, no audience members in attendance at the test screening expressed discomfort with any political discussion in the film. While reports also say The Hunt was formerly titled Red State vs. Blue State, that was never the working title for the film at any point throughout the development process, nor [had it] appeared on any status reports under that name."
Prior to the film's initial shelving, the film attracted criticism from some of the media as a portrayal of liberal elitists hunting supporters of Donald Trump. Trump himself issued a tweet on August 9, 2019, calling "Liberal Hollywood" "[r]acist at the highest level" and writing, "The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos," adding "They create their own violence, and then try to blame others." Although Trump did not specify the name of the film, news vehicles believed that was most likely a reference to The Hunt. Some commentators, such as columnists for National Review, argued that the film would likely have a right-wing, anti-liberal tone that had been misinterpreted by conservative critics of the film's trailer.
In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Bloodshot and I Still Believe, and was projected to gross $8–11 million from 3,028 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $2.2 million on its first day, including $435,000 from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $5.3 million, finishing fifth. The weekend was also noteworthy for being the lowest combined grossing since October 1998, with all films totaling just $55.3 million, in large part due to societal restrictions and regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the closure of many theaters due to COVID-19, the film played almost exclusively at drive-in theaters in the following weeks; it made $279,500 in its 11th weekend and $217,500 in its 12th weekend.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, as of November 2020, the film held an approval rating of 57% based on 246 reviews, with an average rating of 5.9/10. The site's critics consensus read, "The Hunt is successful enough as a darkly humorous action thriller, but it shoots wide of the mark when it aims for timely social satire." As of August 2020 on Metacritic, the film had a weighted average score of 50 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
- Sources differ as to the exact genre of the film; some have classified it as a thriller (specifically satirical thriller, horror thriller, action thriller, and political thriller), while one has called it an action comedy. Others have called it a horror film or horror satire.
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