Director Craig Zobel has opened up to Variety about the fallout from his exploitation-thriller The Hunt, which was shelved indefinitely after coming under fire by conservative pundits and Donald Trump. Written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, the film about “coastal elites” hunting poor “deplorables” for sport set off a series of angry tweets by the president, in which he accused the “Liberal Hollywood” filmmakers of using the movie “to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others.” Less than 24 hours later, the film was pulled from Universal Pictures’ release schedule.
In an email to Variety, Zobel explained, “If I believed this film could incite violence, I wouldn’t have made it.” According to the director, The Hunt was intended as an equal-opportunity satire. “Our ambition was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally,” he said. “To entertain and unify, not enrage and divide. It is up to the viewers to decide what their takeaway will be.”
Lost in the conservative uproar over the film is the fact that, outside of a single salacious trailer, almost no one has seen it, as it had not yet been screened for critics at the time it was canceled. Universal Pictures said in a statement that, contrary to reports, The Hunt received positive audience feedback in test screenings. “Additionally, no audience members in attendance at the test screening expressed discomfort with any political discussion in the film,” a spokesperson told Variety.
Ironically, the speed with which critics made assumptions about the film is precisely what Zobel says he meant to address with The Hunt. “I wanted to make a fun, action thriller that satirized this moment in our culture—where we jump to assume we know someone’s beliefs because of which ‘team’ we think they’re on… and then start shouting at them,” he said. “This rush to judgment is one of the most relevant problems of our time.”