While 2019 proved itself to be a banner year for eat-the-rich movies, the actual responses to these films have diverged greatly. On one end of the spectrum is Parasite, which had such unprecedented hype and support within the industry that it became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. On the other end is The Hunt, a horror-satire that was cloaked in such a bizarre and reactionary controversy among conservatives that even the president began tweeting about it—all without anyone, not even critics, having seen the film.
The reason The Hunt, a film about humans hunting other humans for sport, blew up the way it did came down to some ill-timed optics: The movie was scheduled to be released in the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last year. Complaining about the messaging of a satirical film instead of addressing the actual issue at hand—gun control in America—is about as useful as blaming violence in video games or other forms of entertainment for U.S. citizens’ alarming access to assault rifles. Still, in the wake of all that bad PR, Universal decided to postpone The Hunt’s release indefinitely. Apparently, enough time’s passed.
With a new release date (March 13) and trailer announced on Tuesday, it seems Universal is now comfortable letting The Hunt see the light of day—and what’s more, the studio is leaning into last year’s controversy with its marketing. (“The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen,” goes the new poster tagline.) So we’re probably going to be subjected to another round of litigating whether a movie about people hunting people is appropriate, and some other bad-faith hot takes. (As we found out this week after Parasite’s big Oscars win, being ill informed won’t stop people from having bad takes about, say, reading subtitles.)
For the “people-hunting is not an acceptable form of entertainment” crowd, I’d gently suggest a bit of cinematic research—from The Most Dangerous Game to Battle Royale to The Hunger Games to The Purge, these kinds of movies have been around for a while. Hell, even if you stuck only to movies that were released in 2019, you can look at Ready or Not, which is so similar to The Hunt that I’m shocked it wasn’t canceled by proxy. None of this subject matter is a new phenomenon; in fact, The Hunt is loosely based on The Most Dangerous Game’s source material (the 1924 short story of the same name from Richard Connell).
The Hunt drew the attention of the MAGA crowd because its plot appears to revolve around “liberal elites” hunting everyday conservatives—a premise that, I suppose if you were hooked on Brain Force Plus, would lead you to believe Hollywood was giving its stamp of approval to blue-collar workers being rounded up for the hunting pleasure of [insert über-rich liberal figure]. But even the latest trailer leads one to believe there’s probably more happening than the previews let on, and that we shouldn’t base our opinion on a couple of minutes of footage. (Also why be offended when the conservatives are … the good guys??) All of which is to say this so-called controversy is very stupid and completely overblown, and I doubt The Hunt will be remembered as much as the headlines that’ve surrounded it. Why do we care so much? Why on earth am I even writing about this?
Now, what to make of the actual movie? We’ll find out in March—Universal has reportedly screened the movie for some critics in anticipation of its release—but there are things working in its favor. The Hunt was cowritten by Damon Lindelof, who is fresh off an incredible season of HBO’s Watchmen that interrogated America’s history of racial violence and brought the ideas from Alan Moore’s comic into the 21st century. Lindelof has a much better track record on TV than in film—apologies to the Cowboys & Aliens, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Tomorrowland stans of the world; I still fuck with Prometheus—but we should be giving him and this movie the benefit of the doubt.
As much as The Hunt was felled by unfortunate timing in 2019, the news of its revival next month couldn’t have come at a better time. The palpable love for newly minted Best Picture winner Parasite—and to a lesser extent, Knives Out, Hustlers, Ready or Not, and (ugh) Joker—might not bring viewers to The Hunt, but with class warfare being all the rage on the big screen there’s still a chance the movie can capture the zeitgeist. If nothing else, at least we will soon be able to put the needless controversy surrounding The Hunt to rest. Instead, we should probably focus our outrage on violence in the real world and take some cues from New Zealand.