Studio says it will cancel release of 'The Hunt' after backlash

Universal Pictures says it is canceling the release of "The Hunt" following intense backlash from conservatives and President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies MORE over the politically charged violence depicted in the purported satire.

"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," a Universal Pictures spokesperson told The Hill 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."

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Universal Pictures had delayed the marketing plan for its R-rated release following last weekend’s pair of deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed more than 30 people.

In promotional materials, the movie — which was poised to hit theaters Sept. 27 — was described as a tale about a “group of elites” who gather at a remote location to “hunt humans for sport.” Within the film, the hunted victims were referred to as “deplorables,” according to multiple reports.

"Nothing better than going out to the Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables," one character reportedly says, according to The Hollywood Reporter, though no such references were made in a trailer released by the studio. 

The nickname became a hot-button term during the 2016 White House race, when then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump seeks to project confidence on economy at New Hampshire rally MORE referred to some of Donald Trump’s supporters — ones who held “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic" views — as a “basket of deplorables.”

"I don’t know how else to describe it other than that it’s just sick," John Brabender told ITK just hours before Universal announced it was squashing the film. "You can call it satirical," the Republican strategist said of the thriller, "but it sure does seem like it’s Hollywood creating an entity or a pathway to show what they are calling deplorables … to literally track them down and to kill them — on so many fronts that’s offensive."

As the controversy surrounding the film’s reported plot was debated in conservative circles and on cable news, President Trump appeared to put a target on the movie’s back with comments to reporters on Friday.

Trump blasted the entertainment industry and blamed popular culture for pushing "dangerous" movies. He didn't name any film in particular but appeared to single out "The Hunt," which has been criticized by other figures.

"The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others," Trump said in a series of tweets Friday. "They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!"

The White House didn’t return a request for comment Friday about whether the president was specifically referring to “The Hunt.”

Ted Johnson, SiriusXM "PopPolitics" host and DCHollywood.com founder, noted that virtually no one has actually seen the film.

"There seems to be this assumption that this film is kind of an attack on rural America or Trump supporters, or deplorables — but I don’t even know if that’s for sure," he said.

Damon Lindelof, a writer and producer for "The Hunt," has made anti-Trump statements before, calling the president an "agent of destruction." But one of the film's stars has shied away completely from wading into politics in the past. When asked about then-candidate Trump in 2015, Hilary Swank replied, “First of all I don't speak politics. That is just my motto.”

A day before news of the film's cancellation, Universal Pictures didn’t respond to ITK’s request for comment about the swelling real-life drama surrounding its cinematic offering.

Brabender, who crafted a 2016 political ad parodying celebrities who had railed against Trump that racked up more than 14 million views, had predicted early Saturday that "The Hunt" would never see the light of day.

"I believe this movie will never be released," he said.

Johnson, also speaking before the news that Universal was pulling the feature film, called such a move a "drastic action," although not without precedent. In 2014, Sony Pictures pulled the plug on a wide release of its film "The Interview," amid terrorism threats.

Brabender, a former strategist for Republican Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential run said that if it did make its way into theaters, "The Hunt" would simply, "solidify Donald Trump’s blue collar, Rust Belt base the way Hillary [Clinton] did it when she was critical in calling them 'deplorables.'"

"So their net effect I think is going to sort of backfire on them," he said.

Brabender went on to accuse Hollywood of "using millions and millions of liberal dollars" to run political campaigns "without having to have any of the responsibility that comes with a political ad."

"I just worry that this is so far beyond what anybody would expect in good taste and it's being done under a political umbrella," said Brabender. "I don't know whether you're Republican or Democrat, or independent, liberal or conservative, that something like this you can't just stand up and say this is wrong."

Updated at 2:29 p.m.