It’s been a wild ride for director Craig Zobel these past 7 months. His film THE HUNT, originally slated to be released this past September, was met with pushback when conservatives and our unfortunate President made pre-conceived notions of what the film was. At the time, Donald Trump had tweeted, “The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos” though at that point no one, including Trump, had seen the film.

Contrary to what Trump and others might think, the film focuses on twelve strangers who awaken in a clearing but are unsure as to why they are there or how they got there. Unbeknownst to them, they have been chosen for the very specific purpose of The Hunt. The movie, which I was lucky enough to see a few weeks ago, is a satire on our current political landscape and does a brilliant job of showcasing how damaging both the left and right extremes can be.

For the release of the film, I had the immense pleasure of speaking with director Craig Zobel about THE HUNT. During our chat, we discussed everything from the playful tone of the film, reuniting with co-writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, and what he hopes people will take away from the movie.

Hilary Swank in THE HUNT | Image courtesy of IMDB

You have linked up once again with writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse for THE HUNT. What was it like to come back as a team for this film? 

Craig Zobel: It was great! We had ended our The Leftovers experience with a caveat that we should [work together] again soon because we all had fun together. So it was great, I would do it again!

When THE HUNT was first announced, there was an uproar over pre-conceived notions about what the film was. What was that experience like? 

Craig Zobel: It was a weird experience (laughs). It’s a weird experience to have people talk about your movie who haven’t seen it. Really no one had seen the movie at that point so it was very strange. The silver lining is that now people can see the movie. I feel like because of everything that happened, it’s even more relevant in a way, you know?

Absolutely. I loved that the film tackled themes such as PC culture and the division of politics by showing there are extremes on both sides. That said, the tone of the film is super playful which is in contrast to what I thought it would have been. How difficult was it in trying to get that tone down in a horror film that’s dealing with controversial themes? 

Craig Zobel: The very first conversation I ever had with Damon and Nick about the movie was just to clarify what I assumed was their POV. If we are going to make something that essentially addresses divisiveness in this culture, I felt very strongly that it had to happen with a sense of playfulness. Otherwise, it would…I don’t even want to say would backfire…otherwise I think it would just not work and not be fun. It wouldn’t be a good movie that way. That was kind of where I hoped that they were coming from and immediately they were like, “Yes, that’s what we were thinking, absurd is the point. The more absurd the better.” It was like, what kind of movie do I want to watch right now? The kind of movies I wanted to watch weren’t ones that were filled with a lot of heavy intellectual ideas but ones that would just be fun and a refuge for me from all the politics and things that I shouldn’t be looking at but I’m looking at all day.

Ike Barinholtz in THE HUNT | Image courtesy of IMDB

Piggybacking off of that, I liked that the film didn’t really follow typical horror/thriller tropes commonly seen. One of which is that the majority of the film takes place during the day. It’s a reminder that all forms of horror can unfold during the day. I know we just talked about the tone of the film, but what was the process like in creating the look? 

Craig Zobel: It literally was about pushing against the expectation. We were shooting the movie in February and March where it’s still pretty grey outside, that’s why I was eager to shoot in New Orleans. We needed to go somewhere that wasn’t brown or grey because the moody version of this movie is the opposite of the movie that I wanted to make. That was kind of like the first thing driving my decision-making on where to shoot the movie. The goal was truly to have it there for contrast and also I felt like what was the most current look that we could have for something like this. What feels 2019? I don’t know what everybody else’s 2019/2020 feels like but this was my version of 2019/2020. I wanted to make something that felt like a pop – a current piece of pop material from the time period that we’re in now.

I really enjoyed the array of talent that was in the film, especially that of Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts, and Hilary Swank. What was that casting process like? 

Craig Zobel: I immediately was like, “We should go to Betty Gilpin.” I had worked with her on American Gods and I thought she was amazing and would be perfect for this. I quickly zeroed in on her as a person I thought would be great [for the role]. Then it became about rounding things out. I have always been a big fan of Emma Roberts, I thought she killed it in Scream Queens. It’s one of my favorite, funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. I thought she would get the spirit of the role she was playing and was excited when she did. Hilary Swank was an interesting person to go after. She had the physicality from being in Million Dollar Baby and The Next Karate Kid so you think of her as being badass and tough. However, she had never really played an icy CEO-type which I thought was kind of against type for her in a cool, interesting way. Putting all those pieces together was a big portion of how to tell the story. When you cast certain people in something, the hardest work has been done.

Lastly, what do you hope, personally, people will take away from the film? 

Craig Zobel: I’m hoping that people will walk away and say, “Well that was a good time, I was surprised, that was a laugh” (laughs). And then maybe, if they are inclined, they might reflect and say it was totally absurd and made me laugh at where we are culturally right now. We’ve kind of divided ourselves off into separate groups and they are not listening to each other. That could be a thing that people can also think about but after they’ve just had fun and had a good time.

THE HUNT is now in theaters and you can read more about it in our in-depth, spoiler-free review.

Shannon McGrew
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