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Swank and Gilpin (right)
Swank and Gilpin (right)

The Hunt is all about a group of powerful people hunting humans for sport. Its producers, director and stars Betty Gilpin and Hillary Swank talk about their latest cinematic adventure

TWELVE strangers wake up in a clearing. They do not know where they are, or how they got there.

They also do not know that they have been chosen for a very specific purpose — they will be part of a hunt.

In the shadow of a dark Internet conspiracy theory, a group of rich, powerful individuals gather at a remote manor to hunt ordinary Americans for sport.

But their master plan is about to be derailed because one of the hunted, Crystal, knows the hunters’ game better than they do.

She turns the tables on the killers, picking them off, one by one, as she makes her way towards the mysterious woman at the centre of it all.

The Purge producer Jason Blum and Lost creator Damon Lindelof are behind The Hunt, a provocative new satirical thriller, with Craig Zobel as the director.

Starring Betty Gilpin, Hillary Swank, Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan and Steve Coulter, among others, The Hunt from Blumhouse Pictures is inspired by the current polarised political climate in the United States.

“After Donald Trump’s election, it felt like there was a massive shift in conversation,” said Lindelof in a recent interview.

“We became very interested in conspiracy theories, and these once-fringe ideas have gone mainstream. The key was to have an entertaining story that touched on the some of the themes of the real world.”

For Lindelof, it’s not a leap from conspiracy theories and urban legends to introduce a group of powerful and wealthy people hunting humans for sport.

“It’s not so far-fetched from the real world,” Lindelof said.

Lindelof and writer Nick Cuse were inspired by Blum’s critically-acclaimed movies.

“Nick and I really love these movies, especially The Purge,” Lindelof said.

“We thought, what if it’s about our confusion and anger, and how that anger is misplaced? Why not make the bad guys elitists and see if anything grows from that?”

Combining action, suspense and horror, The Hunt defies categorisation.

“This movie’s got horror and comedy, but it’s mostly action,” said Lindelof.

Lindelof first heard of Zobel after watching his 2012 thriller Compliance.

“He kind of scared me but when I met him, he turned out to be the warmest, sweetest guy around.”

Lindelof hired Zobel to direct some episodes of his drama series, The Leftovers.

“Those episodes turned out to be two of my favourite episodes and we had an incredible collaboration. So when it came time to find a director for The Hunt, I knew that Craig was the man for the job since he walks the line between action and weird humour.”

Zobel said: “My feeling was that if we were going to talk about the divisiveness in the country with this movie, the tone of it had to be playful. It should make us all smile and remind us not to take ourselves so seriously. Giving it satirical humour was really important.”

Zobel admitted that making The Hunt was a blast.

“Where everyone is having fun, it translates into a spirit that becomes trapped inside the movie.”

Blum said: “I loved the script. The Hunt is an amazing story about first impressions and how wrong they are. It is first and foremost a horror movie but it is also a satirical social thriller about first impressions.”

Lindelof said. “There were many influences swirling around when we wrote The Hunt. There are elements of Deliverance, a classic film where city boys run afoul of country boys.

“We wanted to have a good reason for whoever was hunting people. We found that rationale in the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution — by way of director Bruce Beresford’s 1999 thriller Double Jeopardy, which starred Ashley Judd as a woman convicted for her husband’s murder who decided to hunt him down when she found that he was alive and had framed her.

“Here, you apply the idea to a conspiracy theory, where you have already been accused of a conspiracy of hunting people.

“The movie tries not to get too caught up in what the beliefs of the characters are because we’re more interested in this idea of identity politics and what we assume about each other, and how those assumptions are very often very wrong.

“By examining the tensions and anger between left and right in an exaggerated way, The Hunt reveals how superficial and paranoid those divisions are.”

The first characters to be introduced are killed in short order. Lindelof said: “It isn’t until Crystal, played by Betty, walks into a roadside gas station — nearly 25 minutes into the film — that The Hunt’s hero finally shows up.”

The two principal roles of The Hunt are both women, and the filmmakers needed to find powerful women who could each command the screen on her own and ultimately face off in a battle of brains and brawn.

Said Blum: “The Hunt is really a showdown between Hilary Swank’s Athena on one side, and Betty Gilpin’s Crystal on the other.”

The climactic battle is like nothing anyone has ever seen on screen before.

“Both Hilary and Betty have, from their prior movie and television experiences, done a lot of fighting, so they had a lot of experience with that.

“They’re also very strong and nimble and can move quickly. Hilary and Betty did most of the fight scenes themselves. It was great to work with wonderful actresses who also had the experience of on-screen fighting. It makes the fight scenes seem even more real.”

Crystal is a Southern woman with hidden depths and surprising skills.

“When I first read the script I felt that Betty Gilpin should play Crystal,” Zobel said.

“I had worked with her on American Gods and I thought she’d be great.”

“Betty plays an unassuming, ordinary American who maybe isn’t that smart,” Blum said. “She turns out to be the smartest person in the movie, and just an extraordinary fighter, and someone who manages to get out of basically any impossible situation.

“It’s incredible to watch that happen, and to see her surprise Hilary Swank as Athena, who vastly underestimates her.”

Gilpin immediately recognised that Crystal was the type of complex and powerful character usually reserved for men.

“There’s something interesting about having the hero of this be a woman. Making her a little crazy is interesting, too.

“Crystal has this thousand-yard stare and you definitely don’t want to mess with her. I thought it would be cool to play someone who the audience never really gets to know or understand.”

Gilpin, a two-time Emmy nominee for her role in Netflix series Glow, is a revelation.

“She’s amazing,” Zobel said. “We built an entire backstory for that character and we wanted her to be weird and cool.

“Betty is incredibly fascinating and compelling in every frame of this movie.”

Throughout the film, Crystal remains stoic, steadfast and methodical in her pursuit of the hunters, determined to kill them and escape.

As the action unfolds, her skills and fortitude are revealed.

Gilpin said: “I feel so protective of Crystal. She’s a practical person and I think her self-worth is at a pretty low place.

“She’s not someone who’s in a privileged place in her life that allows for self-reflection. She just wants out of this place and doesn’t have any lofty ideas that she’s going to save anyone or the world.

“I think of her as someone who started out as a warrior and someone who had real potential to do something great and powerful but she slowly changed into a different version of herself.

“We had some Marines training us and they taught us to look at each part of the room as a slice of pie, taking in each piece.

“You dissect it, break it into discrete parts. That’s very useful for someone who’s experienced trauma,” said Gilpin, adding that she had always played the supportive wife or the supportive girlfriend.

“The Hunt has opened the door for me to be a tougher, stronger female character.”

Lindelof said: “We named her Crystal because we feel like people make a judgment when they hear that name. It feels like it’s very fragile and the character is the exact opposite of that.”

Viewers first get to see Athena, played by Swank, on a private plane. “The producers thought that was the perfect way to introduce her character,” said Swank.

“Even among these rich, accomplished, powerful people, she’s an entire tier above them.”

Athena, the mastermind of the hunt, is a self-made billionaire. In most of the film, she is unseen, ordering the activities of her hunters through the sheer power of her voice and her unwavering will.

“Athena is omnipresent and a natural leader whose intense desire for vengeance is matched only by the methodical way in which she plans and executes her sadistic plot,” said Swank.

“Athena’s lethal efficiency in her first scene is certainly a memorable introduction of a villain.”

Zobel said: “There’s a reason Hilary has won an Oscar twice. She’s amazing. This is not a role she had played before but she’s masterful at playing very specific characters.”

Swank wowed the entire filmmaking team. “She’s so formidable both in her presence and in her physical ability. Athena goes up against our heroine and has to make us genuinely scared about whether Crystal’s going to make it out of there alive,” said Zobel.

Swank considers Athena a perfectionist, someone who has no patience for others who do not demand excellence of themselves.

“Athena’s personality is reflected in her regal posture, the way she moves, talks, dresses and lives. I felt so strongly about the way Athena carries herself that I did resistance training in advance of filming.”

An interesting member of the hunted is Yoga Pants, played by Emma Roberts.

Roberts said: “She is a seemingly sweet girl with no real survival skills, but a knack for finding allies. When she wakes up in a clearing, she joins forces with a man, when she finds a key and they free each other.

“When we find her, she’s in the woods with a ball gag in her mouth, dressed in this blue athleisure wear.

“The juxtaposition of the outfit with the forest and fields and scenery is really just weird, which goes perfectly with this movie.”

Yoga Pants is the first to realise that she and the other strangers with her are being hunted.

“In the first few minutes of the film, you realise that this is just a take-no-prisoners situation and nobody is safe,” Roberts said.

Interview and photos courtesy of United International Pictures.

The Hunt was to open in cinemas on April 9, but has been postponed

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