The Hunt: why this satirical horror film is already the most controversial movie of 2020

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Criticised by Donald Trump, this Blumhouse production is finally getting a release date in cinemas. Will you see it? 

The trailer for horror film The Hunt opens on the terrified face of Emma Roberts.

Her character – a young conservative woman – wakes up from an unconscious state to find that she has been bound and gagged. Her tumble of platinum blonde curls is restricted by a harness. Her pastel athleisurewear is dirty.

She is one of a group of “normal folks”, including characters played by GLOW’s Betty Gilpin and Ike Barinholtz, who are kidnapped by “liberal elites” and released into the wild, where they will be “hunted like sport”. The film, a bonkers blend of horror and thriller, is produced by Jason Blum, the man whose production company Blumhouse was behind Get Out, and written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof. Hilary Swank stars as the impeccably-tailored ghost in this particularly Hunger Games-esque machine.

Unsurprisingly, The Hunt is already one of the most talked-about horror movies of 2020. Originally slated for release in September 2019, the film was taken from cinema schedules after several tragic mass shootings and thinly-veiled criticism from Donald Trump, who penned a series of tweets that many believe referred to the film as “racist” and designed to “inflame chaos”. 

But on 13 March 2020, The Hunt will finally get its day in cinemas. Blumhouse and Universal will release the film, with a marketing campaign that alludes to it being “the most talked about movie of the year”. “Decide for yourself,” the trailer asks potential audiences.

The issue is about the tenor of the comedy. Given that Lindelof and Blum – who are both known for their thought-provoking and satirical work – are involved, it’s clear that The Hunt is going to use humour to skewer… something. 

“Don’t First Amendment me,” one character says in the trailer. Another says, deadpan: “I am playing an Arab refugee, but I identify as white. I think that’s problematic too, in some way.” Also in the trailer, Swank’s character reminds some of the ‘kidnapped’ victims that none of this game is “real”. “You wanted it to be real, so you decided that it was,” she says.

So, what is the truth? Is The Hunt a movie about liberal elites tracking down and killing conservatives for sport? Or is it about something else entirely? 

The Hunt: Betty Gilpin stars in the satirical horror film.

Blum wants audiences to buy a ticket and find out. “If the controversy gets more people to see it, then that’s OK with me,” Blum told Variety. “I always check the reactions online. I’ve been [reading] a lot and I think this time around a lot of the people who wrote [about] the movie have now seen the movie and I’m very happy so far how it’s been written about and because it’s being understood much better this time as a satire. Which is what it is.”

Satire, in particular anti-elite satire, is nothing new in the horror genre. 2019 was full of films that riffed on that particular theme – whether overtly, such as in the Oscar-winning Parasite, or more covertly, in Ready Or Not. So what is it about The Hunt that has touched such a nerve? What is it about The Hunt that has made publications call it “dangerous”, “sick” and “disturbing”?

The thing is that very few people have actually seen the film, so it’s hard to say. As Blum summed up to The Hollywood Reporter: “We really don’t want to be pointing fingers, and more importantly, we don’t want to be wagging fingers at anyone for overreacting or reacting incorrectly. We just felt like the movie was being misunderstood.” 

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Vulture summed it up perfectly in a recent story when they decreed that they “truly cannot tell you anything about this movie”. It could be “dangerous”, “sick” and “disturbing”, but equally it could be none of those things. It could be a movie about liberal elites hunting conservatives for sport or, if you believe Swank in the trailer, it could all be a fake out.

Who knows? Not us. And certainly not anyone until The Hunt is finally released in cinemas in the US on Friday 13 March.

Maybe you’ll see Trump there. As Blum told Los Angeles Times, when he saw that Trump was tweeting about his horror film, his “overwhelming feeling was trying to figure out how we could get the president to see this movie.” 

The Hunt is in cinemas in the US on 13 March. 

Images: Universal

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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