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The untold truth of The Hunt

If you hadn't heard of The Hunt until recently but have kept seeing the film's name in the news and on social media throughout the past couple of weeks, you're far from alone — this film, which flew largely under the radar before it prompted some heated social and political debate, likely would have been released without much extra fanfare in a different climate.

Featuring an all-star cast and some serious pedigree behind the camera, The Hunt might have gone on to become a fun summer horror success in the style of The Purge, but before it could hit theaters, a sudden storm of controversy ended up prompting Universal Pictures to pull the plug on it entirely. For those unfamiliar with the basics of The Hunt, who's in it, and why it was canceled in the first place, we've got answers. Here's everything you need to know about The Hunt, a movie that went from late-summer sleeper contender to something you may very well never get to see.

What's The Hunt about?

For a film that's made so many headlines, surprisingly few people seem to know what The Hunt is about. Details about the plot are a bit sparse considering it was never released, but the first trailer was released in July of 2019, giving audiences a glimpse into the world of the film.

Slightly similar to The Purge, a film series which imagines a yearly free-for-all when all crime is legal, The Hunt focuses on 12 citizens who wake up in a clearing unsure as to how they got there, all of whom were randomly chosen from red, Republican states — and they subsequently end up being hunted by wealthy members of the "liberal elite." Specifics from the script are far and few between — nobody is really sure whether the hunters are the true villains or not, or whether the ones who are "hunted" are really the "deplorables," a word that is reportedly used in the film. As far as the hunters, one columnist saw them described as "globalist elites," but it remains anybody's guess as to who's truly on which side. 

Who's in The Hunt?

The Hunt has a remarkably stacked cast, especially for a film that may never see the light of day. Hilary Swank, who won Academy Awards in 2000 and 2005 for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, stars opposite Betty Gilpin, who is best known for her role as Debbie "Liberty Belle" in Netflix's GLOW as well as her recurring role on Showtime's Nurse Jackie. Ike Barinholtz, who has appeared in everything from Blockers and both Neighbors films to The Mindy Project and Eastbound & Down, is also a part of the main cast, alongside Emma Roberts, who's made a name for herself in multiple seasons of American Horror Story as well as projects like Scream Queens and We're the Millers.

The supporting cast is also pretty well known, featuring everyone from Glenn Howerton (star of both A.P. Bio and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) to Justin Hartley (This is Us) and Ethan Suplee (American History X, several Kevin Smith films). Despite the work of a talented ensemble, the film still couldn't make it off the ground.

Who's in the creative team behind The Hunt?

If you were impressed with the cast for The Hunt, just wait until you hear who made up the team behind the camera. From huge television alums to big-name horror producers, these names make the entire situation even stranger.

Aside from Nick Cuse, the other credited writer on the project is Damon Lindelof, best known for his work on Lost as well as his game-changing tenure on HBO's The Leftovers, where he spent three seasons imagining the aftermath of a Rapture-like event on Earth that vanished 2 percent of the population. He's also co-written plenty of science fiction films, including Cowboys & Aliens, Tomorrowland, and Star Trek Into Darkness, and he's also part of the team behind the highly anticipated HBO series Watchmen.

The film also has a huge producer — Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions signed on, continuing his trend of banking on television auteurs to make great horror films. This method has certainly worked for him in the past, considering that Jordan Peele's directorial debut, Get Out, was also produced by Blumhouse. He also produced HBO's Sharp Objects in 2018, so between plenty of Oscar and Emmy buzz for Get Out and Sharp Objects, his awards pedigree is seriously on the rise.

What happened with The Hunt's marketing?

In the summer of 2019, the United States bore witness to two horrific mass shootings in the span of 24 hours, one in El Paso, Texas and the other in Dayton, Ohio. In El Paso, a gunman charged into a crowded Walmart with a loaded firearm, killing 22 people and injuring 24 others, citing anti-Mexican sentiment as the reason for his attack. Just a few hours later, a different gunman besieged a crowded, nightlife-heavy street in Dayton, Ohio, killing ten (including the gunman) and injuring 27 others.

These horrifying, hateful events jarred millions, and in a climate like that, it may have seemed like The Hunt, a film involving copious amounts of gun violence, should at least take a quick break from television and radio ads. In the immediate aftermath of both massacres, on August 7, 2019, the studio moved to curtail promotional efforts for The Hunt, pausing the marketing campaign.

Have other films suffered The Hunt's fate?

The Hunt might be hurting after its cancellation, but in terms of film and television history, it's not alone. Several films and TV shows have been halted due to real-life events, putting aside a potentially lucrative release to show respect to victims of real tragedies.

Some films were pulled from specific markets; Idris Elba's 2016 release Bastille Day was delayed at first in France after terrorist attacks struck Paris in November 2015, but the film was ultimately removed from French theaters altogether after a terrorist attack in the city of Nice on Bastille Day. 2013's Gangster Squad found itself in a unique predicament after the Aurora shootings in 2012 during a screening of Dark Knight Rises, in that it featured a scene showing characters shooting through the screen, which forced a delay to film an entirely new action sequence. Infamously, 2014's comedy The Interview, led by Seth Rogen and James Franco, caused so much uproar that it's been cited as one of the main reasons for Sony's hack at North Korea's hands and was released mostly on streaming services rather than in theaters. There are plenty of reasons to pull films, whether they need to be retooled or shelved entirely, and The Hunt is simply one of many examples of this occurrence.

Will The Hunt ever come out?

Often, a controversial film is delayed until the public is ready for the subject matter, but as far as The Hunt is concerned, nobody knows just yet whether it will ever see the light of day.

Since Universal Pictures is owned by Comcast, it's possible that after some time has passed, The Hunt will make its way to NBCUniversal's streaming service, which is also on tap to provide a home to huge network hits like Friends and The Office. It may also be released in theaters at a later date, though nobody involved with the film has made a comment one way or the other about how likely that would be. In the name of sensitivity — and given how often mass shootings make the headlines these days — it's easy to imagine The Hunt remaining locked in the studio vault for quite some time.

What do the studio and stars think about The Hunt's cancellation?

Universal executives have praised the minds behind The Hunt and reinforced their commitment to producing boundary-pushing films, and star Hilary Swank has publicly agreed with the decision. Speaking to Deadline at the Locarno Film Festival, Swank said, "I fully support the decision by Universal and the filmmakers regarding The Hunt.  It is a choice that I also personally felt was necessary. I can't comprehend the violence happening in our country right now. We should all focus on healing, and above all else, kindness, sensitivity and humanity."

The rest of the cast has remained silent since the cancellation, though Gilpin spoke to Indiewire before the film's cancellation and told the outlet how excited she was about the project. Despite the several very valid reasons to halt The Hunt's release, there's no doubt that the cast is likely disappointed, but with this level of talent, they're all sure to land on their feet with new projects soon enough. As far as what this means for other similarly violent films in a world that can feel increasingly under siege, only time will tell.