The Day of the Hunters: Must We Burn Blumhouse?

On August 9, 2019 the commander-in-tweet attacked “Liberal Hollywood” for having “great Anger and Hate! …The movie coming out [which] is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence and then try to blame others." The movie in question was The Hunt and the day following Trump’s Twitter tantrum Universal Pictures pulled the Blumhouse Production from its scheduled theatrical release on Sept. 27. Of course, if anybody knows anything about great Anger and Hate! and inflaming and causing chaos, it’s the president. But Universal didn’t scratch opening the movie solely because the studio was heeding the counsel of a world class expert in rendering incendiary public statements.

Although the e-missive from the “twittering nabob of negativism” (to paraphrase Spiro Agnew) may have contributed to Universal’s decision, given The Hunt’s plot and theme, the mass shootings on July 28, Aug. 3 and 4 at Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio likely played a bigger role in freezing the trigger happy movie’s release. The Hollywood Reporter noted that Universal started pulling ads for The Hunt by Aug. 3, almost a week before Trump and his favorite propaganda network, Fox “News,” assailed the movie produced by Jason Blum.

About half a year after Universal pulled the plug on it the R-rated The Hunt is finally set to be theatrically released nationwide on March 13, which is - but of course - Friday the 13th. But should this 90-minutes of mayhem be permitted to see the light of day in our darkened movie theaters?

In 1952 the French philosopher and author Simone de Beauvoir wrote a famous essay entitled Must We Burn De Sade? Considering how ultra-violent and controversial The Hunt is, 70 years later we could likewise ask: “Must we burn Blumhouse?”

The founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions is three-time Best Picture Oscar nominee and Emmy Award winner Jason Blum, whose many movies run the gamut from the artsy to the kitschy and exploitive. The Hunt is most similar in tone to The Purge film franchise and TV series, and Jordan Peele’s 2017 Get Out and 2019 Us, which were all produced by Blum. Like The Hunt, those hair-raising, violent films combine conventions of the horror genre with social commentary.

The Hunt’s premise is that liberal elitists kidnap, track down and kill (often rather horrifically) “deplorables” - people they presume to be voters for Trump, who the snobby upper crust predators call “our ratfucker-in-chief.” (This is actually a canny quip, as Nixon’s dirty tricks operators - such as Donald Segretti and allegedly Roger Stone - during the Watergate scandal era were called “ratfuckers,” who make today’s so-called “Bernie Bros” look like Girl Scouts in comparison.)

Directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance), co-written by Nick Cuse (HBO’s Watchmen series) and Damon Lindelof (who also wrote for Watchmen, as well as sci fi movies including Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness and World War Z), The Hunt is a “red state versus blue state” political satire. Its characters are caricatures of MAGA cap-wearing, immigrant-hating racist rednecks and libtard latte- and wine-sipping charter members of the effete corps of impudent snobs Agnew denounced (during his prematurely-ended vice presidency because the law and order demagogue was caught red-handed breaking, you know, like the law).

The Hunt stars Betty Gilpin (who portrayed an oversexed doctor on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie series and was Emmy-nommed twice for playing Liberty Belle, a patriotic Southerner who is one of those eponymous Gorgeous Ladies of Wresting on Netflix’s GLOW series) as Afghanistan War veteran Crystal Mae (or is it “May”?) and two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Hillary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) as swanky Athena (apparently named for the Greek goddess of war and wisdom).

The stellar supporting cast includes MADtv alum Ike Barinholtz, who wrote, directed and starred in 2018’s similarly-themed The Oath; Emma Roberts as Yoga Pants (American Horror Story); and Justin Hartley, who plays the sitcom star on NBC’s This Is Us - although considering his bloody fate one might say This WAS Us). Veteran actress and Oscar nominee Amy Madigan (Streets of Fire, Twice in a Lifetime, Field of Dreams - and the wife of Ed Harris) has a neat switcheroo role which, like most of this movie, I didn’t see coming.

Indeed, The Hunt has lots of plot points that make U-turns and take unexpected detours. For example, is the film’s premise called “Manorgate” - wherein limousine liberals prey on pro-Trumpers on the grounds of a posh Manor - a real (that is, within the movie’s storyline) annual event, or is this a mistaken belief? And is Gilpin’s Mississippi good ol’ gal Crystal really a reactionary belonging to what Hillary Clinton dubbed “the basket of deplorables”? Misunderstandings abound, which may be the point of this film about the current state of the populace’s division in our dis-United States of America.

Now that it is finally opening across the country, Universal’s publicity campaign for The Hunt includes one of the cleverest ads and posters ever deployed in a movie advertising campaign. In it about 10 attributed quotes in quotation marks attack the film in black and gray upper case lettering as “demented and evil,” et al. Meanwhile, bright orange larger letters proclaim: “The most talked about movie of the year is one that nobody’s actually seen. Decide for yourself” - and the original release date of “Sept 27” is crossed out next to the new debut date, “March 13,” above a pig’s head turned in profile.

In fact, this reviewer did see the taboo bloodfest for himself at a private screening in Hollywood and can report that The Hunt is a hoot. Unlike those nattering nabobs of negativism panning it in the poster’s quotes, I see it as a satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. Indeed, the pictured pig seems to reference a character in Animal Farm - in the film’s denouement Athena derides Crystal as “Snowball,” and is shocked when the Magnolia State resident is able to cite Orwell’s fable about revolution betrayed.

While it may be cartoonish with over-the-top violence - including the girl fight to end all girl fights - this cinematic spoof has much to say about the Internet, social media, disinformation, truly fake news, our latter day war between the states and more. But in our day and age of “cancel culture” should the envelop-pushing The Hunt be released? Consider that the prolific Blum has also produced serious, intelligent films such as 2014’s Whiplash and Spike Lee’s 2018 BlacKkKlansman (both scored Oscars) and that in 2019 USC presented an exhibit and film series entitled “10 Years of Blumhouse: From Paranormal Activity to Get Out and Beyond.”

When Al Franken defeated in court the libel suit lodged by Bill O’Reilly and Fox News against his book Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, the then-comedian quipped: “In America satire is protected by the First Amendment, even if the object of the satire doesnt get it.” And while The Hunt does put both right and left in the crosshairs, it may very well take more potshots at the liberal elitists and their safari, hunting big game of the two-legged variety. And it’s worth remembering that during the El Paso carnage, it was a white supremacist - not some libtard - who hunted and shot down Hispanics, killing 22 people and wounding 24 others.

Finally permitting the public to buy tickets to see The Hunt and to “decide” for themselves what to make of this excessively violent, satirical look at our divided nation is taking a stand against censorship - and for the First Amendment. It is, however, arguably a blow against the Second Amendment and “the right to bear arms” - in the form of guns, explosives, bows and arrows and stiletto heels.

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/reviewer and co-author of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”. He was named after Edward R. Murrow because of his legendary CBS broadcasts against despotic Senator Joe McCarthy. In 1989 Rampell set a First Amendment precedent in Federal court: Journalists can report allegations against public figures as long as they don’t say the accusations are true.