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New campaign, March release for ‘The Hunt’

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FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2016 file photo, the entrance to the Universal Studios lot is pictured in Universal City, Calif. A film built around the premise of liberal "elites" hunting people for sport in red states is coming to theaters in March, and the studio behind it is leaning into controversy about its premise. Universal Pictures on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020,  unveiled a trailer announcing "The Hunt" will be released March 13, roughly six months after it was supposed to have been released.   (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) (Universal Pictures)
FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2016 file photo, the entrance to the Universal Studios lot is pictured in Universal City, Calif. A film built around the premise of liberal "elites" hunting people for sport in red states is coming to theaters in March, and the studio behind it is leaning into controversy about its premise. Universal Pictures on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, unveiled a trailer announcing "The Hunt" will be released March 13, roughly six months after it was supposed to have been released. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) (Universal Pictures) Photo Gallery

“The Hunt” is back on.

After canceling last year’s planned September release of the R-rated Blumhouse Productions satire in the wake of mass shooting tragedies in El Paso, Dayton, Ohio, and Gilroy, Calif. — as well as criticism from conservative media and President Trump — Universal Pictures is now resuming plans to release “The Hunt” in theaters.

The reversal was announced Tuesday with a new March 13 release date and a fresh trailer that describes “The Hunt,” about a group of strangers who discover they’re the targets in a deadly game, as “the most talked about movie no one has seen.”

“You can’t have had happen what happened and pretend it didn’t happen,” producer Jason Blum said of the new campaign following a private screening of the film at Universal this week.

Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah,” “Compliance”) directed “The Hunt” from a screenplay by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof (HBO’s “Watchmen”). “Glow” star Betty Gilpin leads a cast that includes Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton and Hilary Swank.

The new trailer leans into the controversy over the film’s “deplorables” versus “elites” premise (“every year these liberal elites kidnap a bunch of normal folks … and hunt us for sport,” explains one character), while playing up the film’s comedic bent and clarifying that the politically liberal hunters are not heroes.

“The movie was always meant to be absurdist,” Lindelof said after the screening. “Nick and I never described the movie as a comedy-thriller, but it is a satire.”

The reboot of the film’s marketing strategy follows a media firestorm that erupted last year. An initial trailer released in late July teased the premise with more ambiguity. When a Hollywood Reporter article citing the movie’s script revealed explosive lines of dialogue apparently aimed at President Trump and his supporters (“nothing better than … slaughtering a dozen deplorables” is a line that appears in a text message from Swank’s lead villain), the film became the focus of intense scrutiny from conservative media outlets.

While the reports from people who had not seen the film were swirling, Trump took to Twitter to criticize “liberal Hollywood” and said, “The movie coming out is made in order … to inflame and cause chaos.” He did not name the film directly but the comments were widely read as being aimed at “The Hunt.”

At that point, Universal had already paused the marketing campaign following the mass shootings. The studio then canceled the film’s planned Sept. 27 release.

According to Blum, the question was never if “The Hunt” would be released but when. And though it would have been possible to distribute the movie via streaming or other means, he believes the film is a “theatrical event” in the purest sense. A marketing campaign will now begin in earnest, with trailers targeted to other upcoming Blumhouse titles including this weekend’s “Fantasy Island” and the Feb. 28 Universal thriller “The Invisible Man.”

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