The Daily Wire wants to make conservative movies to take on liberal Hollywood, which might sound like a lost cause from the start. But today it’s releasing a movie based on a Black List screenplay with a compelling genre hook that almost looks commercial — and just happens to sneak conservative values into the heart of its story.
The right-wing publication sells Leftist Tears travel mugs and hosts a podcaster who believes doctors who perform gender-affirmation surgeries are “treating kids like Frankenstein’s monster.” However, it might be able to succeed where Dinesh D’Souza, Steve Bannon, and other conservative filmmakers failed: Adapt a red-state approach to movies that sublimates politics into the story rather than turning it into obvious propaganda.
Today the site premieres its first original feature, “Shut In,” a thriller from “Disturbia” director DJ Caruso. Rainey Qualley stars as a single mother who, after being locked in her pantry by her violent ex (Jake Horowitz) and his friend (Vincent Gallo), must escape to save her children. Key to the film’s right-wing appeal is embracing those who have fallen out of Hollywood’s favor.
Gallo spent his nine-year break from acting selling $666 T-shirts with slogans like “Fuck Black Lives Matter.” And producer Dallas Sonnier, who fled lefty Los Angeles years ago, is finding his second act as a key architect of the Daily Wire film strategy after his last company dissolved in scandal. Sonnier’s next movie for The Daily Wire stars Gina Carano, infamously fired by Disney from the “Star Wars” universe after a social media post that compared the current U.S. political climate to Nazi Germany.
“We’re making entertainment-first content, challenging content, adult content,” said Daily Wire co-founder and -CEO Jeremy Boreing.” The two things that will distinguish [a Daily Wire film] is the fact that it broadly speaks to values that conservatives are aligned on — not strictly conservative values. We’re not making Hillary’s hard-drive story, and we’re not making rag-tag football players find Jesus in the third act.”
Most importantly, Boreing said Daily Wire’s films will be without the “left-wing sucker punch.” Some examples he cited: Ted Lasso referring to God as “she” or how the eighth season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” responded to George Floyd’s killing: A cop quits to become a PI who investigates police-brutality cases.
Boreing describes the protagonist of “Shut In” as a person who sees herself as a victim of circumstance as she recovers from addiction and who, over the course of the film, learns to become self-reliant. The dialogue offers lines sure to yield both conservative cheers and liberal eyerolls. Qualley’s character remarks to her toddler daughter, “I don’t have any money for taxes — or anything else.” To escape the high costs of her home state, she’s planning to move to Texas.
“We were greenlit in one afternoon and in production in less than two months,” Sonnier said in an email. “They didn’t insist on neutering the script by replacing Gallo’s controversial character with something lame, like an evil dog. They trusted me to pick the director I wanted, and shoot the original script as I always intended in my system. I get to make movies with folks who I respect and trust, all for an audience I care deeply about. Absolute win-win for a producer like me who refuses to fall in line with the rewarded conformity of modern Hollywood.”
Sonnier left LA and headed back to his hometown of Dallas, founding Cinestate there in 2016. While promoting his company’s 2018 Lionsgate release “Dragged Across Concrete” (unemployed mechanic Vince Vaughn kills drug dealers to protect his wife from a forced abortion), Sonnier told the Wall Street Journal he made “populist entertainment” that declined to treat Trump voters “as losers.” In 2019, he discovered Melanie Toast script “Shut In” on the Black List. That year, he set up the project at New Line Cinema with Jason Bateman attached to direct.
In 2020, Cinestate producer Adam Donaghey was arrested on a charge of sexual assault of a child. At the time, Sonnier told the Daily Beast he didn’t understand the severity of earlier allegations against Donaghey and failed to fully investigate it, but alleged that those with “personal vendettas” wanted to take down Cinestate. (Donaghey denies the allegations. His court case is ongoing.) A D Magazine profile declared: “Four years after it breathed new life into local cinema, Dallas Sonnier’s efficient horror film machine is plagued by allegations of rape, harassment, and abuse.”
Cinestate went dark. “Shut In” fell apart at New Line. Sonnier founded Bonfire Legend, which has become Daily Wire’s go-to production partner. Asked for his thoughts around his new production company two years after Donaghey’s arrest, Sonnier wrote in an email: “Bonfire Legend reflects the spirit of my firebrand of moviemaking, and my personal vendetta against disingenuous morality, amidst a deeply polarized body politic.”
The Daily Wire’s first foray into film was the 2020 acquisition of Cinestate’s school-shooting thriller “Run Hide Fight,” which premiered out of competition at the Venice International Film Festival. As with “Shut In,” Daily Wire premiered it for free on YouTube before putting it behind a paywall. Reviews were on the poor side of mixed, with IndieWire’s David Ehrlich calling it a “glib, artless, and reprehensibly stupid thriller” in his “F” review. The site claims over 300,000 people tuned in to the premiere last January.
Media brands moving into movies is not unusual; this week, BuzzFeed released romantic comedy “Book of Love” on Amazon Prime. However, The Daily Wire is unusual in that its films are available only to its website subscribers and it has no plans to release the titles on VOD or to cut deals with major streamers that are run by the liberals they hate.
After its YouTube premiere, “Shut In” will be available only to those Daily Wire subscribers who pay $12 or $20 per month; videos aren’t available to the $5 base tier. A Daily Wire representative declined to offer details about membership numbers or the films’ budgets.
The next Sonnier-Daily Wire collaboration will be “Terror on the Prairie,” a Western starring Carano. Thursday’s screening of “Shut In” included the first teaser for “Terror on the Prairie.”
“The purpose of Daily Wire entertainment is not to create a home for those who have been canceled,” Boreing said. “That said, if we can produce a home for those who have been canceled, I think it’s a very worthy thing for us to do. Gina Carano did absolutely nothing to deserve her cancelation from Disney. She deserves to have work.”
Every time the Gina Caranos of the world find themselves rejected, there will be an opportunistic right-winger eager to make a buck and an audience who will see her circumstance as a badge of honor.
Cancel culture, Boreing said, is “driving value to my business. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of it.”
“Shut In” will screen on YouTube for free Thursday at 9 p.m. ET in the U.S. It will then be available exclusively for Daily Wire members.