From the producers of The Purge, The Hunt looked set to be Universal's latest social thriller hit next month – until it wasn't.
On August 10, Universal announced the largely unprecedented decision to cancel the worldwide release of The Hunt, just over a month before its planned cinema release on September 27 in the US, UK and other countries.
The decision came after Universal had paused the marketing campaign for the movie, following the recent tragic mass shootings in the US. The two trailers released so far, including one mock-advert publicising a "Private Hunting Experience", have also been taken off Universal's YouTube channels.
"While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film," the studio said in a statement.
"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."
The thing about The Hunt is that a lot of people reacting to the movie (and its cancellation) are just assuming what it's about. And really, at this stage with no screenings before its cancellation, the only guaranteed facts about the movie are from the official synopsis.
"Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don't know where they are, or how they got there. In the shadow of a dark internet conspiracy theory, a group of globalist elites gathers for the very first time at a remote Manor House to hunt humans for sport," it reads.
"But the elites' master plan is about to be derailed because one of the hunted, Crystal, knows The Hunters' game better than they do. She turns the tables on the killers, picking them off, one by one, as she makes her way toward the mysterious woman at the centre of it all."
It sounds like The Hunt was following a pretty common horror trope of potential victims fighting back.
There's a heavy splash of The Purge in there too, albeit with the rich elite hunting poor white victims, rather than minorities like most of the victims in that long-running series.
The difference here is that, unlike The Purge movies, The Hunt was under pressure from the moment that US President Donald Trump appeared to criticise it on Twitter.
"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," he tweeted.
"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!"
This led to outcries of hypocrisy against the movie, with gun control laws again in the spotlight in the US following the tragic shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
The Hunt's cancellation has been criticised by some who fear it sets a dangerous precedent of censorship, and for being hypocritical as Universal is also the studio that releases The Purge series.
But it could well be there is something in The Hunt that too closely echoes what happened in El Paso and Dayton. Equally, it could be that Universal just didn't want to release a movie heavy on gun violence at such a sensitive time.
The Hunt was never likely to be a huge box office success, with early forecasts putting it around $38 million total in the US, so it's not like Universal is cancelling one of its summer blockbusters.
In a weird way, the cancellation could prove to be the best thing to happen to The Hunt.
It's certainly put the movie in the spotlight more than its first trailer did, changing it from a movie that only genre fans were interested in, to a movie that now has a curiosity level attached for even non-genre fans.
Of course, this is all dependant on The Hunt actually being released, as Universal used the phrase "cancel" and not "postpone".
Back in 2014, The Interview was faced with a scandal pre-release that saw its release delayed, before the comedy was given only a limited cinema launch with Sony focusing instead on a digital release.
Something similar could happen to The Hunt and it's easy to see how a release on a streaming service like Netflix could work in its favour. But we're just speculating for now, and it could well be that it'll be released without a fuss in the coming months.
If you're after a social thriller fix though, you might have to wait until The Purge 5 arrives next year.
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