The horror-thriller starring Betty Gilpin was famously shelved following tweets by the POTUS.

By Clark Collis
March 10, 2020 at 05:54 PM EDT
Universal Pictures

The Hunt

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"I think the movie is, ironically, quite harmless," screenwriter Damon Lindelof says of his new horror-thriller The Hunt, out March 13.

That's an interesting take given the controversy the film inspired last year. Starring Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, and Hilary Swank, The Hunt is a contemporary take on the people-hunting-people trope previously explored in 1932's The Most Dangerous Game and 1993's Hard Target, among other films. The twist? Director Craig Zobel's film depicts a group of right-wing "deplorables" being hunted and killed by rich liberals.

The film’s release last fall was paused following mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, and it was subsequently shelved by Universal and Blumhouse after President Trump tweeted that it was made by the Hollywood “Elite” to “inflame and cause chaos.”

"Everyone’s still figuring out how to talk about this movie," says Lindelof, who co-wrote the film with Nick Cuse. "There is a way that everyone would have talked about it had it been released as originally planned. And now, in my humble opinion, this thing is being treated like it’s radioactive. It’s not radioactive, but because it was once deemed radioactive I think it’s limiting the conversation in some odd way."

Below, Lindelof talks more about the film, the controversy, and why Gilpin could be the new Clint Eastwood.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired you and Nick Cuse to write The Hunt in the first place?

DAMON LINDELOF: It was before The Leftovers ending and before we started working on Watchmen. We were talking about conspiracy theories, and especially Pizzagate, but just the phenomenon of how it had gone mainstream. One of us threw the gauntlet of like, you literally couldn’t create a conspiracy theory about the other side that you wouldn’t believe through the lens of your political bias, that’s how bad it’s gotten. Then we started throwing ideas at one another to see how ridiculous it could be.

I can’t remember which one of us said it first, but it was like, "Oh, what if it was like The Most Dangerous Game? What if it was hunting human beings for sport?" And then that conversation immediately smashed into another conversation that we’d been having, because we’d been talking about Get Out and how it was this incredible piece of social commentary and satire Trojan-horsed inside of a horror film. Obviously that’s the brass ring, because it also got Oscar consideration and all these things. We were like, "We’re not talking about getting Oscars, but wouldn’t it be fun to do some kind of Jason Blum movie but elevate it slightly to talk about this moment in our time?" Then we were off to the races.

Patti Perret/Universal

The film's release was initially paused because of two mass shootings. Given how often mass shootings now seem to be happening, would you think twice about writing another movie that has so much gun violence in it?

I think that it’s always a question worth asking: Is it necessary to have gun violence in order to tell this story? And in this case it was absolutely and totally essential. I think if we were doing a movie about a lone shooter who walks into a department store or a bar with an automatic rifle and starts killing innocent people, that would obviously give us incredible pause. But the idea of this very heightened level of violence that isn’t presented in a gritty realistic way but is quite over the top was done quite intentionally. Gun violence is built into the conversation in the movie, and hopefully we were able to have a little bit of a sense of play about it, even though I think everyone understands that it’s an incredibly serious issue.

Say you'd been sitting next to Donald Trump when he tweeted about the film: How would you have corrected him? How do you think he got the wrong end of the stick?

Oh, I don’t know I would make the horrific mistake of correcting him about anything. Oddly, considering the circumstances that were surrounding the movie at that point in time, I was kind of tickled by the tweet — not that I found it amusing. I would ask, "Do you want to see the movie?" Because the President was responding to reporting that was responding to someone that had read the script. It was just a vicious game of telephone that got way out of control. So I think I’d turn to him and say like, "Hey, it’s cool that you sent that tweet, would you like to see the movie?"

The movie shows the political extremes of the left and the right as being bad, essentially.

It was a cautionary tale, and the cautionary tale is exactly as you put it, which is, the more extreme you get, the more dangerous things become. There’s no safety in the extremes. This isn’t to say that everybody needs to move to the center. There is space for passions in terms of one’s political ideology. But when you stop believing common sense, that’s when things get quite ridiculous.

Universal Pictures

Betty Gilpin is so good as the movie's laconic, skilled-in-the-ways-of-mayhem heroine. She’s like Dirty Harry-era Clint Eastwood.

She carries the movie on her shoulder. Her timing is just brilliant. The Clint Eastwood thing I think is right, in terms of she can do so much with so little. To have a character of few words is always a challenge for an actor; it’s a very very physical role. But then she has monologues, as you know, in certain points of the movie that she completely nails. I just think, whether the movie does well or doesn’t do well, my big hope is that everybody discovers just what an incredible talent Betty is.

I thought the film was perfectly cast. I rewatched Logan Lucky the other day and I had forgotten that Hilary Swank and Macon Blair play the cops at the end. I would watch an entire movie about those two characters. This is a long way from that, but it was great to see them both in the film.

I agree. They’re fantastic. A lot of credit must go to Craig Zobel, the director, who had a real specific sense of, you know, “Let’s get Hilary in there, she’s a two-time Oscar-winner, she elevates the material but at the same time I've never seen her play a heavy.” He knew Macon from Green Room. Between Craig and [casting director] Terri Taylor at Blumhouse, they really put together quite a phenomenal cast.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

What is it about horror that makes the genre such a good vehicle for commenting on contemporary social issues and traumas?

I think that we use horror and scary stories as a way to speak to whatever the interior anxiety we’re feeling, both personally and societally. And I think one of those primary anxieties is, "Am I an American?" Or "Why are these other people saying I’m un-American?" "What does this idea of divisiveness really mean in its most horrific kind of extreme version?" And so horror allows us to ask those questions, and to show people the manifestation of their nightmares. and then they get to walk out of the theater and…

Turn on the news!

Yes, exactly! Wake up!

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

To read more from the April issue of Entertainment Weekly, pick up a copy on newsstands beginning March 17, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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