Is the film 'The Hunt' a misfire or a direct hit in our left-right divide?

EDITORS NOTE: Since this piece was published, Universal Pictures announced that it is canceling the release of "The Hunt" following intense backlash over the politically charged violence depicted in the purported satire.

Universal Pictures just jumped into the culture wars with both feet.

The film studio’s Sept. 27 release, “The Hunt,” is marketed as yet another blood-soaked thriller from producer Jason Blum (“Get Out,” the “Purge” franchise). Betty Gilpin stars as a woman under attack from elitist killers who hunt humans for sport.

Sounds like the classic short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” written by Richard Connell in 1924 and made into a 1932 feature with Fay Wray. Hollywood loves reboots and remakes, right?

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This “Hunt,” however, could be very, very different.

Not only is the film meant as a satire, but the storyline plays directly into the Left/Right divide roiling the nation, according to The Hollywood Reporter (THR). The entertainment site says the film’s previous title was “Red State vs. Blue State.” Plus, screenplay snippets from the article reveal how closely “The Hunt” mirrors the worst elements of the current debate:

" ‘Did anyone see what our ratf***er-in-chief just did?’ one character asks early in the screenplay for The Hunt … Another responds: ‘At least The Hunt's coming up. Nothing better than going out to the Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables.’ "

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' MORE dubbed Donald Trump’s fans “deplorables” during her failed 2016 presidential campaign.

THR.com website fleshes out the narrative, one sure to spark endless conversations in the weeks leading up to its release: “The violent, R-rated film … follows a dozen MAGA types who wake up in a clearing and realize they are being stalked for sport by elite liberals.”

Universal isn’t saying more about the film, its themes or the chance that “The Hunt” could stoke some real-world violence. After all, the Left is currently blaming the El Paso, Texas, mass shooting on President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE’s rhetoric, while the Right notes how the slain Antifa thug who attacked an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center last month echoed the talking points of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims Trump blasts Schumer over 'incorrect sound bites' on coronavirus Trump warns against 'partisan investigations' after Pelosi establishes select committee on virus response MORE (D-N.Y.) and that the Dayton, Ohio, shooter described himself as a socialist and a fan of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMaryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint complete merger | Warren pushes food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees | Lawsuit accuses Zoom of improperly sharing user data Warren calls on food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees MORE (D-Mass.).

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Could Universal’s silence be a tactic to gin up interest in the movie? Might The Hollywood Reporter have its facts wrong? In an era of “fake news,” anything’s possible.

Yet, it’s hard to believe the film will play out as suggested for a number of reasons.

Blum is no dummy. He’s arguably one of the savviest producers in Hollywood, responsible for a string of low-budget, high-profit features — but this kind of cultural dynamite may not be great for business. He’s also aggressively anti-Trump, and the film’s plot suggests audiences will be rooting for the MAGA types.

Movies featuring stalkers and prey typically invite audiences to cheer for the latter. Consider past thrillers like “Deliverance,” “Eden Lake,” “Blue Jay” and “Black Rock.”

Could a Trump-hating producer, who happily injects anti-MAGA themes into films like “The First Purge,” turn Trump fans into heroes?

Unlikely. 

“The Hunt” drew more press coverage recently, after Universal pulled ads for the film out of sensitivity to recent mass shootings. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen that knee-jerk strategy involving violent TV shows or films. But it still doesn’t address the larger issue presented by the movie’s theme: Is it responsible to show liberals murdering conservatives (or vice versa, in theory) when the two sides hold each other in such contempt?

The issue of movie violence impacting the culture got shoved aside in the Age of Trump, but it’s one still worth exploring while keeping the First Amendment firmly in mind. 

Just ask disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein. 

The man behind “Kill Bill” and other extreme fare once proposed a violent-movie summit after a Colorado movie theater shooting left 12 people dead.

"I think as filmmakers we should sit down — the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies — and discuss our role in that," Weinstein said at the time.

He never followed through with his plan … and, given the sexual assault allegations against him, he’ll be lucky to walk onto a film set in the next 20 years. No other prominent Hollywood figure has picked up on Weinstein’s idea. It’s a topic worth considering, though.

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This summer’s “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum” turned gun deaths into a gorgeous, often comical, visual symphony. Even the franchise’s ardent supporters might wonder if that glamorization leaves a mark.

President Trump weighed in, albeit clumsily, on the subject during a broadside attack on Hollywood on Aug. 9: “What they’re doing with the kind of movies they’re putting out, it’s actually very dangerous for our country.”

Film studios have the right to put their stories into the marketplace, and audiences can either line up to see them or stay home. The First Amendment still matters. So does the American marketplace.

One item is clear, all the same. If “The Hunt” is half as combustible as it appears, it could be the most controversial movie of the year, if not the decade.

Christian Toto is editor of the conservative entertainment site HollywoodInToto.com and host of the weekly "Hollywood in Toto Podcast."