A controversial movie directed by an alumnus of the UNC School of the Arts has been pulled from distribution one day after President Donald Trump appeared to tweet criticizing it.
"The Hunt," a satirical thriller, was directed by Craig Zobel, a 1999 graduate of UNCSA's filmmaking program. The film follows a group of strangers who are abducted by rich elites who set about hunting them down on a remote estate. Some pundits said that the film was about liberals hunting down conservatives, and others expressed concern that its Sept. 27 release date was too soon after recent tragedies.
Last week, Universal Pictures, which was to distribute the film, "paused its marketing campaign" in light of recent mass shootings in Ohio, Texas and California. Then on Friday, President Trump tweeted to complain about "liberal Hollywood" and, while not specifically naming "The Hunt," went on to say that "the movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others."
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....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2019
On Saturday, Universal canceled their plans to release the film.
The script is by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindolof and the film was produced by Blumhouse Productions, the company behind such popular horror franchises as "Paranormal Activity," "Insidious" and "The Purge," the latter of which also blends political satire and horror.
Zobel, 43, previously directed such films as "Great World of Sound," a comedy about the music industry; "Z For Zachariah," a post-apocalyptic drama starring Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine; and "Compliance," a provocative thriller about a manager manipulated into psychologically abusing one of her employees.
In a statement on the film's website, Universal Pictures said "We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film."
Greg Gutfeld, a conservative pundit on the Fox News talk show "The Five," said on that show that he felt the controversy was "much ado about nothing."
"This is an old idea, the 'Most Dangerous Game,'" he said in an article posted at FoxNews.com, referring to a 1924 short story that has been adapted to film several times, depicting a character being hunted by a rich, sadistic antagonist.
"There's a lot of movies about hunting humans and we have no idea who becomes victorious in this. This is a satire," Gutfeld said. "I think we immediately go, 'oh my God, they're hunting conservatives.' I guarantee you the conservative will probably win and that's the twist in this."
The trailer revolves around a character played by Betty Gilpin of the Netflix series "GLOW" who is one of the hunted but turns the tables on her pursuers. The elites depicted in the trailer include characters played by Hilary Swank and Glenn Howerton, with Swank's character saying that the people they are hunting are "not human beings."
The cast also includes Emma Roberts and Justin Hartley as fellow targets, and Steve Coulter, a UNCSA alumnus, in an unspecified role.
Several months ago, after wrapping filming in New Orleans, Coulter said "I think the film is going to cause a stir." He described it as "a great action/thriller, very darkly funny, and will cause a good bit of chatter on both the Right and the Left."
Asked Saturday about the controversy, Coulter added, "It's always curious when people are outraged about a film that they haven't even seen yet. The movie is a satire that points its finger at both blue and red staters. One of the smartest scripts I've read in years. I hope Universal decides to release it down the road."