Director Craig Zobel merely wanted to deliver a crowd-pleasing exploitation satire with The Hunt, as its themes of political divide and internet vitriol felt more relevant than ever, only for the debut of the film's first trailer to result in one of the weirdest controversies in contemporary cinematic history. The first trailer leaned into certain elements of the story while ignoring others, resulting in viewers misinterpreting its narrative as a story about one political group murdering another for sport, gaining so much traction that even Donald Trump condemned the film ahead of the general public even earning the opportunity to see the film for themselves.
The heat the film drew ended up with it getting pulled from its planned September 2019 release, ultimately earning its release this month and an all-new trailer that offered a more honest depiction of how the narrative satirized all political agendas. Sadly, the film's earned even more setbacks, as the coronavirus pandemic has seen the closure of a majority of the world's theaters, resulting in Blumhouse Productions making the film available for an in-home rental mere weeks after its theatrical debut.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Zobel to discuss what attracted him to the project, his reaction to the delays, and audiences finally having the opportunity to witness the film in this unique situation.
Header photo courtesy Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage/Getty Images/Blumhouse Productions
No Stranger to Controversy
ComicBook.com: First and foremost, given the film's journey and our current situation, how are you doing?
Craig Zobel: Just in general?
Just in general.
I have a new sense of, like, anything can happen in the world these days. And in that way, maybe the type of things that are happening to this film made the world pandemic feel like just a normal thing that I, certainly not downplaying what it is, but it is like, "Oh, craziness. I've been living in this for a while." So I'm doing okay. Thank you for asking.
Back when Compliance first premiered at Sundance, I remember hearing about it earning this backlash and controversy surrounding it and some audiences considering it this offensive movie. Then when I saw it, I understood where people were coming from, except for the fact that it's based on a true story and you were merely conveying a reality. It feels like you're no stranger to inadvertently riling people up with a movie.
It certainly is shaping up to feel like that a little bit more than I ever intended it to, but here we are, I guess. I'm just kind of curious about weird things.
And given how many movies are made, premiere, and hit home video with little fanfare or conversation, are you happy to see your films earn such passionate conversations and discussions, even if there are negative repercussions?
When you put it that way, for sure. I think with filmmaking, you make these things because you want people to see them, so I'm happy that people feel like they're at least part of the conversation. I certainly am not walking around scratching my chin going, "What is the next controversial thing I can make a movie out of?" That's certainly not the way I'm operating at all. But it's just happened to be that this has happened a few times, and I'm also still processing what that means. Like, "Huh." I get interested in these things and this wanting to make something that elicits a reaction.
To answer your question, I'm glad that people find things worthy of conversation enough that people want to see them or talk about them.
When you first got involved with The Hunt, how much of your interest in it was the script and story and how much of its appeal was the conversation that could potentially stem from it?
If you had asked me, was I looking for something that was going to be controversial? I would say, no. But I certainly was thinking a lot about, just privately thinking about and having a lot of conversations about the current [heated political] situation in our country and it had gotten to a place where I was like, "Whoa." It seems crazy, and I certainly don't have a solution for it, but it does seem like we all are getting to a place where we need to calm down a little bit.
So when this film came along and [writers] Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse showed me the scripts, I definitely felt like, "Oh, this is a conversation I was already having in a way." These were ideas that I was discussing with people and repeating some things.
And this felt like the right way to do it, in my mind, to present a conversation about it and it wasn't some of this very heavy intellectual, professorial point of view, instead being a really clever satire. It was supposed to be a fun throwback action movie, like a fun midnight grindhouse movie that also took this on, and I thought it was the right way to do it. The fact is that if you try to present an answer to something, you're not going to satisfy everybody, but this was more just asking questions like, "Isn't it silly that we're all this divided?" It was about what I felt like I, as a viewer, had a tolerance for at the moment.
It felt like the right way to do it, and it felt like some of the conversations I had wanted to have. I certainly wasn't doing it as, "Oh, that's going to become controversial and the president's going to tweet about it." I would never have thought that, but I certainly did think that it was a fascinating way to talk about the things that were happening at the time and in this moment right now.
"You always just want people to see it."
The film's first trailer and its many setbacks have drawn it an immense amount of news coverage that it might not have earned had the first marketing materials depicted it as a more straightforward action satire. Given the number of people who might be more likely to check out the film based on the press, do you wish that the film had come out when it was originally intended or do you think the various delays have allowed the film to frame itself in a more appropriate way and that those setbacks were worth it, as they highlight the film in a different light?
Good question. I think that if the movie had come out when it was originally supposed to, with the initial marketing campaign that it was supposed to have, I think people would've met the movie a different way and had a different level of expectation of the movie in a certain way that was more along the lines of what I thought it would be received as more.
When we had to reset the film, in an effort to try to remind people that it was something else than what it had been framed as, especially in the far-right media, it got presented as a satire, which it certainly is. But (what) it got presented as, and it sort of made sense, I think it created a different expectation, certainly from certain groups of people, that it was going to be something that it wasn't. So, I don't know.
I kind of wish that it had just come out, to be honest, when it was supposed to come out the first time. But I'm happy that it's come out now. I'm happy that people saw it, even if it has made the initial reception of the movie different from what I thought it was going to be. You always just want people to see it, so I'm glad that people are giving it a chance. And, hopefully, people are going to be entertained by it, because that was the point.
Not only did the movie land in theaters briefly, but now that it's out On Demand, that has changed the stakes a little. People might be more willing to take a chance on it in their homes when they might not have been interested in making the trek out to the theater to commit to seeing something that might have gotten under their skin in a specific way, so I'm looking forward to this new strategy.
Yeah, me too. To make it short, I'm really excited. I'm going to do a Twitter tweet along with it, and I'm really so excited. I'm excited to see what happens as people can just watch this at home. Certainly, any filmmaker that doesn't contemplate that people will eventually one day watch your thing at home in modern times is being a little disingenuous, I think. And I definitely made this movie for it to be like something fun for audiences to watch. I mean, that really was ... in my mind, the perfect audience would be in a crowded movie theater.
Obviously, that can't happen right now, and that's okay. This is what we all need to be doing, is not going out and being in a crowd. I always knew there would be sometime sooner or later that people would watch the movie and find the movie on big screens in their house. And so, I'm super curious to see what the reaction is.
Between Compliance and its depictions of an authoritarian police state, Z for Zachariah's depiction of global infection and required quarantine, and The Hunt's way of depicting people with knee-jerk reactions to political divides, your films have this weird way of accidentally predicting society's future. I don't know what to make of that, but it's fascinating.
Thanks, I guess.
I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse, but it makes me curious about what the topic of your next movie will be.
It's hard to write, to be honest, for sure.
You adapted the book Z for Zachariah and also jumped in to direct episodes of The Leftovers, American Gods, and Westworld, are there other stories you're hoping to adapt one day or franchises you'd love to jump into?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I'm very excited to work in a number of ways. I certainly had a lot of fun making this action movie. That was something I didn't always know I wanted to do. But, man, I had a lot of fun doing it, and want to do it again.
I certainly hope there is an opportunity for that in the near future, for sure. There's all sorts of untold stories out there right now. I'm a huge Mad Max fan. I hope that they continue the characters of Mad Max: Fury Road, regardless of whether or not I can do it, but it would be fun to do something like that, that felt like that.
And between your feature films and the TV series you've directed, it seems limiting to call you a "genre" director, but you've gotten to work in the worlds of horror, sci-fi, action, and fantasy, so I'm enjoying the variety of stories you've brought to life and look forward to the other worlds you'll bring to life.
I feel very lucky. It's really exciting and fun, and I fully intend to (bring diverse worlds to life). As much as people will invite me to the party, I want to, for sure.
I'll make sure to tell George Miller to let you direct a Mad Max film next time I speak to him.
Great, thank you. I appreciate it. This has been really productive.0comments
The Hunt is available now On Demand.