Posted on February 12, 2020

Blumhouse’s The Hunt – A Tale of Two Trailers

Dawn Keetley

On February 11, 2020, Blumhouse released a new trailer and marketing campaign for its horror / action film, The Hunt, which had been due for release in September, 2019. The film was pulled from distribution, however, after a firestorm blew up about its representations of violence (people hunting each other) in the wake of August 2019’s mass shootings and also because of its perceived political stance—“elites” hunting “normal” folk—that sent, among many others, President Donald Trump to Twitter to denounce “Liberal Hollywood.” Meanwhile, virtually no one – including those who were creating the firestorm – had actually seen The Hunt.

As Trump tweeted on August 9, 2019: Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves “Elite,” but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order…. to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!  

 At the time, it strained my credulity that anyone could watch the original trailer and think that The Hunt was some sort of serious political commentary promoting the worldview of “elites” as they hunted down, well, everyone else.

Here’s that original trailer:

Yes, the film does indeed evoke current political divisions in the US. But to the extent that you can infer a message from a trailer, The Hunt seemed rather firmly opposed to the idea of “hunting human beings”—of considering anyone, even (or perhaps especially) those from Wyoming, Mississippi, and Orlando, less than human. After watching the trailer, I figured that, through this parable of political division, The Hunt would be urging its viewers that everyone is human –and that some humans, marked as “elite” in the film, are profoundly immoral for not believing in that central humanist tenet.

As such, The Hunt seems to fall squarely in a subcategory of horror films about hunting humans – beginning with Richard Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924) and its subsequent adaptations (e.g., RKO’s faithful 1932 adaptation, The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea, 1961’s Bloodlust!, 1994’s Surviving the Game, with Rutger Hauer and Ice-T, and 2004’s The Eliminator) – through more recent fare such as Would You Rather? (2012), the Purge franchise (2013 – present), The Belko Experiment (2016), Nerve (2016), the excellent and underrated (and very politically progressive), Most Beautiful Island (2017), and Ready or Not (2019). In not a single one of these texts is the hunting of humans actually endorsed.

Related: I wrote about “game horror” here.

I’m very happy to see, then, that The Hunt is being released after all. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, its new trailer and marketing campaign seem designed to convince everyone who objected to the first trailer that none of what they saw in the trailer was “real.”

Here’s the new trailer:

Instead of a film about “elites” hunting “normal” people, now The Hunt appears to be about some elaborate pretense, or joke, about people hunting people. We hear: “It wasn’t real.” “We were joking.” “You actually believed we were hunting human beings for sport?” “These are not real people. They’re actors.” And, “You wanted it to be real, so you decided it was.”

Instead of a film about contemporary political divisions told as a parable of people hunting people, we seem to have a film about the spread of misinformation—which is, admittedly, an equally relevant political topic. To the extent that the film’s exploration of misconceptions, paranoia, and conspiracy theories may be overlaid over the parable of hunting people, The Hunt could be an even more interesting film. And, of course, the insistence in the trailer by the “elites” that it’s all a joke could be a cover for the fact that they are actually hunting people! As the leader of the hunted “normals” (Betty Gilpin) says when she’s ridiculed for believing they really were hunting people, “But you are.”

There is one thing that does disturb me, though. Damon Lindelof, one of the co-writers of The Hunt, felt he needed to make the following disclaimer in a recent interview with Collider:

I think that everybody in the movie who is extreme and advances extreme positions and stereotypes about the other side, they get their comeuppance. And the one character in the movie who doesn’t identify that way is the one left standing. And so the morality of the movie has always felt very clean to us, which is don’t operate from the extremes and maybe have conversations with one another versus jump to conclusions. But I may be oversimplifying it.”

Horror films produced during the period of the Hollywood Production Code (from the early 1930s through 1968), were required to punish evil and destroy their monsters. What Lindelof told Collider seems to veer dangerously close to expressing the force of a moral code. Are we at a point where the creators of horror have to reassure us that the “monsters” of horror (in this case, those who hold “extreme positions and stereotypes about the other side”) “get their comeuppance”? And does the “morality” of horror movies now need to be clear and “clean”?

I’m about to teach William Friedkin’s brilliant 1974 film The Exorcist. Imagine if he or anyone else involved in the film had felt that they needed to make sure that the bad guys got “their comeuppance”? One of the things that’s brilliant about The Exorcist (and countless other horror films, by the way) is that viewers end the film filled with utter dread that the evil may not have been defeated, that it may persist. I’d hate to see a trend where films that didn’t abide by the implicit rule that the monsters get their “comeuppance” struggled to find distribution.

I hope we see, in The Hunt, a messier film that Lindelof promises, one that raises questions about what’s destructive and immoral and “monstrous,” not a film bent on making it clear that we know what its answer is.  But I’ll definitely be seeing The Hunt (on March 13) before I make any declarations about it.

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