Is Film Dangerous?!
I always find it a bit interesting (and slightly humorous) when competing studios release similarly themed films within close proximity. These occurrences — “twin films” as they’re commonly referred — are things that could be chalked up to chance; although, whenever I take notice of them, I ofen find myself imagining studio executives involved in industrial intellectual property espionage, or disgruntled studio grunts giving the rival studio the 411 on the latest blockbuster in development just to spite their studio overlords.
Whatever the reason(s), the twin film phenomenon has occurred at least once a year from mainstream cinema’s infancy to present day. Some examples include 1997’s Dante’s Inferno and Volcano, 2006’s The Illusionist and The Prestige, and last year’s 90s-set, coming-of-age skate flicks Mid90s and Skate Kitchen. But cinema’s most recent set of twin films comes with a lot of heated controversy…
If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m referring to Ready or Not (which we recently reviewed) and a film titled The Hunt. Both evoke a sense of “The Most Dangerous Game” and promise gory thrills; however, in the case of these twin films, only one will reach the finish line.
Following the wake of another string of tragic mass shootings in Gilroy, CA, El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, Universal Studios decided to suspend the marketing campaign for The Hunt — a film about a group of “elites” who hunt “deplorables” for sport. We’ve seen this situation and maneuver before — though mostly in regards to TV (like Netflix’s The Punisher) — and Universal’s decision to push the film’s release date was absolutely the right ethical call to make given the circumstances. But Universal’s sound judgment would take a confounding turn as the week wore on.
It wasn’t the film’s suspension that necessarily put the final nail in The Hunt’s coffin, but the mountain of conservative backlash calling the film a “liberal fantasy,” amongst other things. Naturally, Fox commentators jumped at the opportunity to reprimand the film as being “sick” and “awful.” Even the President felt compelled to join the hate wagon, calling Hollywood racist and accusing them of creating violence, claiming the film was aimed “to inflame and cause chaos.”
In a comment to the media, President Trump expounded: “Hollywood — I don’t call them the elites, I think the elites are the people they go after in many cases. But Hollywood is really terrible. You talk about racist — Hollywood is racist. What they’re doing with the kind of movies they’re putting out, it’s actually very dangerous for our country. What Hollywood is doing is a tremendous disservice to our country.”
But is film actually dangerous though? Does movie violence have the capacity to inspire real-life acts? Is film really doing a tremendous disservice to our country?!
As far as real-life acts go, there are certainly examples — like Taxi Driver and even A Clockwork Orange (from which this blog takes its name) — that have been linked to wretched deeds and violent copycats, but in those instances, who’s really in control, the film or the viewer? Anyone can pick any number of things as the “reason” to incite violence; it could be a piece of art that drove them to the edge, or it could just be how they woke up that day. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that people have a choice about how they feel and re/act. Regardless of how something makes someone feel, extreme behavior as a means of retaliation is seldom — if ever — justifiable.
As far as film being dangerous, this is obviously just a feeble attempt at misdirection on the White House’s part intended to misdirect and avoid having to to do any real or meaningful work to detangle a massive cluster-fuck issue like gun control…but it’s one we’ll entertain.
Film isn’t dangerous, but its ideas certainly can be, especially when they’re consumed by highly impressionable and generally unwell individuals who commonly bend the film to fit their own sick plots. In regard to film being a disservice, that couldn’t be further from the capital "T” Truth.
One of the many lovely things about film is that it often times offers a perspective and worldview that differs from that of our own. It provides a way for all of us to easily take trips to different parts of the world, glimpse into other cultures, and live inside the minds and bodies of people who are not the same as us. This is something that we view as an inherent positive, but how we use the information and experience that film provides us is an entirely different conversation…
It’s one thing for people to become triggered and outraged by a film, but vilifying one that no one’s yet to see (except for a test audience) is a blatant step over the line. There are better ways to react, like not going to see it if you don’t agree with what you think its message may be. Sadly, the kind of world we live in allows for thin-skinned parties and easily offended groups to capsize projects if they raise enough stink, which is exactly what happened with The Hunt. However, the film’s cancellation is really no one’s fault except for the studio.
Instead of standing up for the film or pushing its release even further back to allow all the blowback to die down, Universal folded under the conservative pressure and decided to drop The Hunt and its release entirely over this speculated controversy. Their actions are the biggest betrayal of all. It’s these kinds of chickenshit moves that validate these groups’ irrational feelings and support the hollow claims that film and its ideas are more dangerous than people…
For us, it’s hard not to see the irony. What really sets The Hunt apart from other Blumhouse fare, like The Purge series, that takes unsubtle aim at the potential horrors that come as a result of Republican ideology? Well, a definite answer can’t really be reached — BECAUSE, AGAIN, NO ONE’S SEEN THE FILM — but from our purely speculative standpoint, it seems to be that right-wingers are throwing a fit just because the film purportedly makes fun of them and their crazy tendencies.
It’s already bizarre enough to steamroll freedom of speech on speculation alone — a “disservice” that only Universal can be accused of — but what’s even more peculiar is a statement issued by Universal pushing back against the claims that the test audience felt uncomfortable with the film’s politics.
“While some outlets have indicated that test screenings for The Hunt resulted in negative audience feedback; in fact, the film was very well-received and tallied one of the highest test scores for an original Blumhouse film,” a Universal spokesperson told Variety. “Additionally, no audience members in attendance at the test screening expressed discomfort with any political discussion in the film.”
The director of The Hunt , Craig Zobel, who supported the studio’s decision to delay its release in light of the gun massacres that left 31 dead, said the film wasn’t designed to take a political side, but to satirize both ends of the political divide.
“Our ambition was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally,” he wrote. “We seek to entertain and unify, not enrage and divide. It is up to the viewers to decide what their takeaway will be.”
He went on to say, “I wanted to make a fun, action thriller that satirized this moment in our culture — where we jump to assume we know someone’s beliefs because of which ‘team’ we think they’re on… and then start shouting at them. This rush to judgment is one of the most relevant problems of our time.”
Zobel hopes the film will eventually make its way to audiences, so that can realize how its message has been overblown in media reports. We certainly do as well; between The Hunt and Ready or Not, The Hunt looked like the better film out the “twin set.” There’s a good chance that it will see the light of day soon enough — though there’s nothing definitive on that, at least for now. After all, Disney re-hired James Gunn following his own silly controversy, and Sony decided to release The Interview despite being hacked and receiving terrorist threats from North Korea, so maybe Universal will come to their senses.
Of course, the real kicker here is that all the media hoopla the conservatives raised over The Hunt has given it far more coverage than it would’ve otherwise received. So, now, whenever the hell the film gets released, it’s highly probable that an even greater number of people will be curious and go to see it, which will be very lucrative for Blumhouse — and Universal, should they decide to have a backbone and stand behind a film they initially believed in.
One thing’s for sure, if studios continue to allow themselves to be pushed around and bullied by the knee-jerk reactions of easily outraged groups — especially when they have little to base their opinion on — then the first amendment is in serious trouble. As soon as we start drawing a line in the sand and deeming certain stories off limits, it opens the door for more and more people to flip out every single time something deals with subject matter or that themes that upset them. The world is filled with upsetting things and trying to clean them out of cinema isn’t going to resolve any of our very urgent real-world dilemmas.
If we continue down this path, we may very find ourselves living in a world that has been wrung dry with a Mickey Mouse squeegee (more so than it already is), a future where old films are re-edited to exclude anything even remotely offensive, and new films involve only sterilized, politically correct stories…
That’s not the kind of world we want to live in. We have always expected cinema to challenge us — and yes, even offend us — because we feel it’s very important to remind ourselves that there are many different ways of living and thinking. Not all of them may be good, but we’d still like to see for ourselves before we jump to any conclusions.
What do you think? Was Universal out of line? Do you think film is dangerous or is it all just a crock of shit? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well.