In the wake of the two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that killed 32 people last weekend, ads are being pulled for Universal Pictures' upcoming R-rated satire The Hunt, in which elites stalk "deplorables." Over the weekend, ESPN pulled an ad for the film that it had previously cleared, while AMC ran the spot during the season premiere of The Preacher, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It's unclear whether or not the two were identical, but the one previously aired by ESPN opened with a sound resembling an emergency broadcast signal. ESPN told THR that no spots for the film will appear on the network in the coming weeks.
A high-level Universal source said that the studio pulled some ads that are beginning to air and appear online "for content and placement," but others say the matter is still under discussion internally. A major ad campaign for TV and the web had been planned for the beginning of September, another said. One trailer is already online.
The gun-heavy, violent, sure to be controversial film from producer Jason Blum's Blumhouse follows a dozen MAGA types who wake up in a clearing and realize they are being stalked for sport by elite liberals. Starring Betty Gilpin (GLOW) and Hilary Swank as representatives of opposite sides of the political divide, The Hunt features ultra-violent killings as the elites pick off their prey. The script, written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, revolves around political themes and was originally titled Red State Vs. Blue State.
"Did anyone see what our ratf—er-in-chief just did?" one character asks early in the screenplay, according to THR. Another responds: "At least The Hunt's coming up. Nothing better than going out to the Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables."
Studio sources told the publication that Universal is evaluating its plans in "a fluid situation," and a high-level insider said top executives want to stand by Blum, as well as filmmaker Craig Zobel, and that they see the project as socially important satire. But the source also said plans could change "if people think we're being exploitative rather than opinionated."
The advertising strategy isn't the only thing Universal is rethinking among the recurring violence in the country; a studio source told THR that even before the recent attacks, some re-shoots were done based on a rough cut.
It's not the first time a film release had been complicated by tragic real-life events. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Warner Bros. delayed the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led Collateral Damage and abandoned a trailer that featured a bomb attack in the U.S. In 2017, Death Wish was delayed several months in response to a mass shooting in Las Vegas. And Oliver Stone's 1994-satire Natural Born Killers was criticized for inspiring copycat killings.0comments
"Employees in different departments were questioning the wisdom of making such a movie in these times," one filmmaker with ties to Universal said. "In light of the horrific [recent shootings], is this not the most craven, irresponsible, dangerous exploitation?"
But that point was countered by a Universal executive, who said the movie "is meant to show what a stupid, crazy world we live in," adding, "It might even be more powerful now."