In a new interview with Variety — his first since the cancellation of his film “The Hunt” earlier this month — director Craig Zobel voices both his support for Universal’s choice to delay the film after a series of mass shootings and conservative-driven backlash (which became so heated it appeared to even reach the the White House) and his dismay over how the film has been portrayed by the media.
The Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions film, a new interpretation of the classic “The Most Dangerous Game” trope, was pulled by the studio on August 10. The studio had already opted to pause marketing on the violent film after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, rocked the country, announcing a full cancellation after President Donald Trump began to vaguely tweet about the film, calling it “racist at the highest level” (despite it containing no overt racial themes) and “made in order to inflame and cause chaos.”
“If I believed this film could incite violence, I wouldn’t have made it,” Zobel wrote in an email interview with Variety. “Our ambition was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally. We seek to entertain and unify, not enrage and divide. It is up to the viewers to decide what their takeaway will be.”
Despite his misgivings about how the film has been portrayed in the lead up to its cancellation, Zobel said he supports the studio’s decision to move the film’s release date (as of this writing, the film has not yet found a new release date or a potential new distributor).
“I was devastated by going to sleep to El Paso and waking up to Dayton,” he wrote. “In the wake of these horrific events, we immediately considered what it meant for the timing of our film. Once inaccurate assumptions about the content and intent of the movie began to take hold, I supported the decision to move the film off its release date.”
While the film reportedly pits “elites” against “deplorables,” Zobel contends that the film’s themes have been misunderstood by the media. “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,” he wrote. “This rush to judgment is one of the most relevant problems of our time.”
Last week, IndieWire exclusively reported that the decision to pull the film from theaters came before conservative backlash, and the choice to pull marketing was indicative of the studio’s plans to scrap the film entirely.
Still, Zobel said that the studio took a “risk on greenlighting a film not based on prior intellectual property.”
He added that he hopes the situation can turn into a teachable moment for all involved. “My hope would be that people will reflect on why we are in this moment, where we don’t have any desire to listen to each other,” he wrote. “And if I’m lucky some of us will ask each other: how did we get here? And where do we want to go moving forward?”